Wednesday, June 22, 2022


“Exactly how do you become a true hero?”


This month marks the 25th anniversary of Walt Disney Pictures’ HERCULES. 

The 35th animated feature film from Disney, and the eighth film produced during the Disney Renaissance of 1989 to 1999, HERCULES was based on the legendary hero Heracles (known in the film by his Roman name Hercules), the famed son of Zeus in Greek Mythology. Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, the film’s production started back in 1992, when thirty artists and animators pitched their ideas for a Disney feature. One pitch was an adaptation of The Odyssey, but it was deemed too long. The idea was whittled down to a singular character, Hercules. 


Script writing went into 1993, and the storyline was settled; Hercules would be kidnapped from Mount Olympus by the scheming of his uncle, Hades…the ruler of the underworld. Herc is raised as a mortal with superhuman strength, and sets out on a quest to be a hero and earn his place with the gods. Research trips to Greece and Turkey would inspire the style of the film. Computer animation would be used to bring certain elements of the film to life, including the Hydra creature. 


Singer and actor Donny Osmond was auditioned for the voice of Herc, but the role would eventually go to Tate Donovan. Danny DeVito would play Philoctetes, Herc’s teacher and mentor, and James Woods would play Hades. Other roles included Rip Torn (Zeus), Susan Egan (Megara, Herc’s love interest), Bobcat Goldthwait and Matt Frewer (Hades’ henchmen), Hal Holbrook and Barbara Barrie (Herc’s adoptive parents), Keith David (Apollo), and Wayne Knight. The soundtrack consisted of music written by composer Alan Menken, along with the single Go the Distance by Michael Bolton. 


Upon release, HERCULES would receive mixed to positive reviews, with the music and James Woods’ performance two of the highlights. HERCULES would come in under box office expectations compared to its high-earning predecessors such as POCAHONTAS (1995), and THE LION KING (1994), as it had stiff competition from hits such as MEN IN BLACK and BATMAN & ROBIN. Still, the film would finish as the 12thhighest earner of the year. Go the Distance would be nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe. 




In the 1990’s, the biggest story in film for the decade was the output of Walt Disney Pictures, with a string of global hits that earned big dollars, won awards, elevated the art of animation, and altered our culture. Most of those films were inspired by, or adaptations of well-known stories, and HERCULES was one of them. Dipping deep into mythology and the elements of the hero’s journey, HERCULES is a classic hero tale and does not shy away from it; instead diving deep into heroic deeds and what it really means for the deed do-er. This Blogger ignored HERCULES in 1997 (too busy being a 24-year-old), and it wasn’t until the Chief of Reel Speak’s Disney Branch (this Blogger’s wife), introduced me to it when I realized how great of a film I had been missing. In today’s age of superheroes dominating the box office, HERCULES is a reminder of where those caped figures throwing lightning bolts really came from. This is classic Disney all the way up the mountain. 


“I will face the world, fearless, proud, and strong…”

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