Disney’s Hercules in Context: Mouse-Morality for Mini-Heroes
Many elements of the Hercules myth are unpalatable to modern eyes, particularly in programming for children and young adults; the rape of Alcmene, Hercules’ madness and subsequent murder of his children, the episode with Omphale, to give but three examples. Nevertheless, Hercules, the greatest hero of them all in the ancient world, was the chosen topic for the Disney Corporation’s big screen production in 1997. Hercules was the 35th animated feature in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series. Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, who had already achieved notable success with The Little Mermaid (1989) and Aladdin (1992), it was a successful movie, being generally well reviewed and making a total of $99 million in revenue in the United States during its theatrical release and $252,712,101 worldwide. The popularity of the film led to a further direct-to-video prequel Hercules: Zero to Hero, and a syndicated Disney TV series, Hercules: The Animated Series. In their animated version, Disney adapted the myth of Hercules radically, in keeping with their ideology and in order to present particular moral messages for their young viewers. This chapter considers these changes within the wider context of the Disney agenda, as established by Walt Disney himself, and examines both the overt and subliminal lessons being transmitted by this modern reception of Hercules.