Theatrical release poster
|Narrated by||Charlton Heston|
|Music by||Alan Menken|
|Edited by||Tom Finan|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Pictures Distribution|
|Box office||$252.7 million|
Hercules is a 1997 American animated musical fantasy film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation for Walt Disney Pictures. The 35th Disney animated feature film and the eighth animated film produced during the Disney Renaissance, the film was directed by Ron Clements and John Musker. The film is loosely based on the legendary hero Heracles (known in the film by his Roman name, Hercules), the son of Zeus, in Greek mythology.
Development of Hercules began in 1992 following a pitch adaptation of the Heracles mythological stories by animator Joe Haidar. Meanwhile, Ron Clements and John Musker re-developed their idea for Treasure Planet following the critical and commercial success of Aladdin. Their project was removed from development in 1993, and Musker and Clements joined Hercules later that same year. Following an unused treatment by Haidar, Clements and Musker studied multiple interpretations of Greek mythology before abandoning Zeus's adulterous affair with Alcmene. The project underwent multiple story treatments and a first script draft was inspired by the screwball comedy films of the classic Hollywood era and popular culture of the 1990s. Donald McEnery, Bob Shaw, and Irene Mecchi were brought on board to shorten the script. British cartoonist Gerald Scarfe was recruited as production designer and produced over seven hundred visualization designs of the characters. Research trips to Greece and Turkey provided inspiration for the background designs. Animation for the film was done in California and Paris. Computer animation was utilized in several scenes, predominantly in the Hydra battle sequence.
Hercules was released on June 27, 1997, to positive reviews from film reviewers who praised James Woods's portrayal of Hades. Despite the positive critical reception, the film under-performed in its theatrical release notably in comparison to its predecessors before ultimately earning $252.7 million in box office revenue worldwide.Hercules was later followed by the direct-to-video prequel Hercules: Zero to Hero, which served as the pilot to Hercules: The Animated Series, a syndicated Disney television series focusing on Hercules during his time at the Prometheus Academy.
In Ancient Greece, after imprisoning the Titans beneath the ocean, the rulers of the Greek gods, Zeus and his wife Hera, have a son named Hercules on Mount Olympus. While the other gods are joyful, Zeus' jealous younger brother Hades plots to overthrow Zeus and rule Olympus. Turning to the Fates for help, Hades learns that in eighteen years, a planetary alignment will allow him to locate and free the Titans to conquer Olympus, but only if Hercules does not interfere. Hades sends his minions Pain and Panic to dispose of Hercules. The two succeed at kidnapping the infant and feeding him a formula that turns him mortal, but fail to remove his superhuman strength before Hercules is found and adopted by the farmers Amphitryon and Alcmene.
Years later, the teenage Hercules becomes an outcast due to his strength, and wonders where he came from. After his foster parents reveal the necklace they found him with, Hercules decides to visit the temple of Zeus for answers. The temple's statue of Zeus comes to life and reveals all to Hercules, telling him that he can regain his godhood by becoming a true hero. Zeus sends Hercules and his forgotten infant friend Pegasus to find the satyr Philoctetes--"Phil" for short--who is known for training heroes. They meet Phil, who has retired due to numerous disappointments, but Hercules inspires him to follow his dream to train a true hero that will be recognized by the gods. Phil trains Hercules into a potential hero, and then they headed towards Thebes. On the way, they meet Megara--"Meg" for short--a sarcastic damsel whom Hercules saves from the centaur Nessus. After Hercules and the others leave, Meg is revealed to be Hades' minion, who sold her soul to him to save an unfaithful lover.
Arriving in Thebes, Hercules is turned down by the downtrodden citizens until Meg appears, saying that two boys have become trapped in a gorge. Hercules saves them, unaware that they are Pain and Panic in disguise, and unwittingly releases the Hydra. Hercules defeats it and becomes a celebrated hero, but despite Hercules' growing fame and defeating every subsequent monster Hades unleashes, Zeus tells him he is not yet a "true" hero. Saddened and frustrated, Hercules spends a day out with Meg, who falls in love with him. Hades learns of this and on the eve of his takeover, he holds Meg hostage and offers her in exchange for Hercules surrendering his powers for a day. On the condition that Meg will be unharmed, he accepts, and is heartbroken when Hades reveals that Meg was working for him.
Hades unleashes the Titans, who climb Olympus and capture the gods, while a Cyclops goes to Thebes to kill Hercules. Hercules defeats the Cyclops; Meg then saves him from a falling pillar and is mortally injured. This breaks Hades' promise that Meg would not be harmed, and allows Hercules to regain his strength. Hercules and Pegasus fly to Olympus where they free the gods and vanquish the Titans, but Meg dies before he returns to her.
With Meg's soul now Hades' property, Hercules breaks into the Underworld and offers to free Meg from the Styx in exchange for his own life. His willingness to sacrifice himself restores his godhood and immortality before the life-draining river can kill him; he rescues Meg and punches Hades into the Styx, where irate souls pull him under. After reviving Meg, she and Hercules are summoned to Olympus, where Zeus and Hera welcome their son home. However, Hercules chooses to give up his godhood and remain on Earth with Meg in lieu of living on Olympus. Hercules and his friends return to Thebes, where they watch Zeus etch Hercules' image into the stars to commemorate his heroism.
In early 1992, thirty artists, writers, and animators pitched their ideas for potential animated features, each given a limited time of two minutes. The first pitch was for an adaptation of The Odyssey, which entered into production in the following summer. However, production on the film was abandoned when it was deemed too long and lacked central characters, and failed to translate into animation comedy. Animator Joe Haidar also suggested pitching a story from Greek mythology, but thought his chances plummeted when work on The Odyssey was discontinued. Nervously, he produced a pitch sketch of Hercules, and delivered a brief outline set during the Trojan War where both sides seek the title character for their secret weapon. Hercules makes a choice, without considering the consequences, though in the end, he learns humility and realizes that strength is not always the answer. With the pitching session concluded, Hercules was approved for development in which Haidar presented a page-and-a-half outline, but his involvement with the project succeeded no further.
In November 1992, fresh off of their critical and commercial success of Aladdin, directors Ron Clements and John Musker re-developed Treasure Planet up until fall 1993, with Aladdin co-screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio taking Clements and Musker's ideas and writing a treatment and script.Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was the chairman of Walt Disney Studios, disapproved of the project, but struck a deal with the directors to produce another commercially viable film before he would green-light Treasure Planet. Turning down adaptation proposals for Don Quixote, The Odyssey, and Around the World in Eighty Days, the directors were notified of Haidar's pitch for a Hercules feature. "We thought it would be our opportunity to do a "superhero" movie," Musker said, so "Ron and I being comic book fans. The studio liked us moving onto that project and so we did [Hercules]."
With Hercules in production, Clements and Musker conducted research and wrote extensive notes for the film. On excerpts detailed in November 1993, the similarities between their outlines included the naive title character caught between two worlds, a Danny DeVito-type sidekick, a world-wise heroine, and a powerful villain in a battle of idealism versus cynicism. The directors also sought inspiration from classic screwball comedy films directed by Preston Sturges and Frank Capra with "Hercules as the young Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," Musker explained, and "Meg is modeled on Barbara Stanwyck, especially the characters she played in The Lady Eve and Meet John Doe."
While preparing the script, Clements and Musker consulted the works of Thomas Bullfinch, Edith Hamilton, Robert Graves, and other interpreters of Greek mythology until they reached the conclusion to not portray the traditional story of Hercules. Because Zeus sired Hercules outside of his marriage with Hera, Clements remarked "that illegitimacy would be difficult subject matter for a Disney movie. So [he and Musker] thought of different ways he could be half-man and half-god. [They] moved more toward making Hades the villain instead of Hera. The Underworld seemed like such a fascinating, dark images; the contrast with Olympus seemed to have all kinds of visual possibilities." Additionally during their research, the directors were inspired by the correlation of the popularity of Hercules in comparison to that of sport athletes and celebrities in the contemporary era with both directors stating Hercules was the Michael Jordan of his era.
After multiple meetings and story conferences, Clements and Musker wrote several story treatments before proceeding to their first script draft. Comedy writers Donald McEnery and Bob Shaw were recruited by creative executive Jane Healey to work on Hercules. Meanwhile, their draft was concurrently rewritten by Irene Mecchi, which altogether brought additional humor and definition to the script.
Donny Osmond originally auditioned as the speaking voice of the title character, but he was turned down because his voice was considered too deep. Writing the role of Philoctetes, Musker and Clements envisioned Danny DeVito in the role. However, DeVito declined to audition so Ed Asner, Ernest Borgnine, and Dick Latessa were brought in to read for the part. After Red Buttons had auditioned, he left stating "I know what you're gonna do. You're gonna give this part to Danny Devito!" Shortly after, the directors and producer Alice Dewey approached DeVito at a pasta lunch during the filming of Matilda, where DeVito signed on to the role.
For every Disney animated feature since Beauty and the Beast, Susan Egan auditioned for a role, and then landed the role of Belle in the Broadway production. Upon learning about Hercules, Egan actively pursued the role of Megara, though she revealed that "Alan Menken initially blocked me from going after that part. He said that the female lead in Hercules was supposed to be this cynical smart-ass, sounding nothing at all like sweet, innocent Belle." Menken eventually relented and allowed Egan to audition for the role. Egan read for the part in front of a microphone while being videotaped as Menken, Beauty and the Beast musical director Michael Kosarin, and the filmmakers sat at a table with their eyes closed. Nine months following the results of the test animation synced with Egan's audition, Egan won the role. During production, Meg was originally given a ballad titled "I Can't Believe My Heart", but Ken Duncan, the supervising animator of Meg, pointed out the song was out of character for Meg. Menken and Zippel would later compose "I Won't Say I'm In Love" instead.
The casting of Hades proved to be very problematic for Musker and Clements. When DeVito asked the directors who had in mind to play Hades, Musker and Clements responded by saying they hadn't selected an appropriate actor. In response, DeVito blurted, "Why don't you ask Jack [Nicholson]?" After DeVito notified Nicholson of the project, the next week, the studio was willing to pay Nicholson $500,000 for the role, but Nicholson demanded roughly a paycheck of $10-15 million, plus a 50% cut of all the proceeds from Hades merchandise. Unwilling to share merchandising proceeds with the actor, Disney came back with a counter offer that was significantly less than what Nicholson had asked for. Therefore, Nicholson decided to pass on the project.
Disappointed by Nicholson's refusal, Clements and Musker eventually selected John Lithgow as Hades in fall 1994. After nine months of trying to make Lithgow's portrayal of Hades work, Lithgow was released from the role in August 1995. According to John Musker, Ron Silver, James Coburn, Kevin Spacey, Phil Hartman, and Rod Steiger arrived to the Disney studios to read as Hades. Additionally, animator Nik Ranieri claimed Michael Ironside, Terrence Mann, and Martin Landau also auditioned for the role. When the directors invited James Woods to read for the part, they were surprised by Woods's interpretation, and Woods was hired by October 1995. Hades's co-henchman Pain was written with Bobcat Goldthwait in mind, although the actor confessed he still had to audition for the role despite playing himself.
In 1993, Ron Clements and John Musker fondly remembered a Time magazine cover of the Beatles, illustrated by English cartoonist Gerald Scarfe. While working as the production designer on a production of The Magic Flute, Gerald Scarfe was invited to tour the Disney studios where Clements and Musker noticed a direct correlation between Scarfe's style and the Greek vase painting style. With the permission from the Disney studios, Scarfe was hired as production designer to produce a dozen drawings. Scarfe conducted minimal research, not wanting to be influenced by other interpretations where he sent thirty-two sketches via fax machine or courier, and ended up producing more than 700 drawings throughout production. By July 1995, Scarfe and fifteen animators and designers began developing working prototypes for every character in the movie. That same year, the filmmakers embarked on a research trip to Greece and Turkey to research classic Greek mythology. Since Scarfe's style proved to be too fluid and chaotic for the animators, production stylist Sue Nichols created reference charts for the animators on which elements of Scarfe's style, as well as classical Greek illustration, to adapt into their work.
Animation began in early 1995 with a team of nearly 700 artists, animators, and technicians in Burbank, California while Walt Disney Animation France contributed nearly ten minutes of animation, including the finale with the Titans and Hercules' descent into the Underworld.Andreas Deja, the supervising animator for Hercules, commented that the animation crew he worked with to animate Hercules was the "largest [he] ever worked with". He previously worked on other characters (like Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, Jafar in Aladdin, and Scar in The Lion King) with about four animators on his crew, but he had a team of twelve or thirteen for Hercules. Given Deja had worked with three villains before, he was first offered Hades, but asked to animate Hercules instead - "I knew if would be more difficult and more challenging, but I just needed that experience to have that in your repertoire."
Following the release of Pocahontas, Eric Goldberg was initially assigned to animate Hades when Jack Nicholson was thought to play the character, but when Nicholson decided to pass on the project, Goldberg wasn't interested in animating the character anymore. At around the same time, Chris Buck was assigned to animate Philoctetes, but after he left the production of Hercules, this left the character of Philoctetes without a supervising animator. Goldberg then decided to instead animate Philoctetes when DeVito signed onto the role noting his similarities with the actor in their short stature, baldness, and admittedly a little "soft around the middle". Throughout production, there were twenty-seven designs for the character, but the final design took inspiration from Grumpy in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Bacchus in Fantasia in terms of their curmudgeonly personality and facial structure. For Hades, animator Nik Ranieri took inspiration from Scarfe's concept drawings and James Woods' mannerisms during the recording sessions. While Hades' body was drawn by hand, the animation of the hair was handled by the effects animators with input from Ranieri as to how it should move.
For the Hydra, Scarfe provided preliminary drawings to give the mythical beast its requisite fangs and serpentine necks before work was transferred over to the computer animation team headed by Roger Gould. The Hydra was sculpted into a clay model where the dimensions were digitized into the computers as a wire-frame model by which the monster was animated. Early into production, the filmmakers decided the Hydra would ultimately have thirty heads by which the animators created one master head, and the computer could multiply the heads to their desired scale. Overall, thirteen animators and technical directors spent nearly a year-and-a-half creating the four-minute battle sequence. Additionally, because the directors envisioned Olympus as a city composed of clouds, painted backgrounds of clouds and cloud-like imagery were blended with drawn effects animation to create a morphing technique that were used for baby Hercules's cradle and Zeus's reclining chair.
The soundtrack for Hercules consists of music written by composer Alan Menken and lyricist David Zippel, orchestrated by Daniel Troob and Michael Starobin, with vocals performed by Lillias White, LaChanze, Roz Ryan, Roger Bart, Danny DeVito, and Susan Egan among others. The album also includes the single version of "Go the Distance" by Michael Bolton.
On February 4, 1997, Disney began its marketing campaign by starting a five-month promotional traveling tour, called Disney's Hercules Mega Mall Tour Sponsored by Chevy Venture, throughout 20 cities starting first in Atlanta, Georgia. Previously used for the marketing campaigns for Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the tour featured eleven attractions including a multimedia stage show, a miniature carousel themed to Baby Pegasus, a carnival with Hercules-themed game booths, and a ten-minute animation workshop hosted by animator Andreas Deja where visitors would try their hand at drawing Hercules.
On June 14, the premiere of the film was accompanied with an electric light parade held in Times Square. The parade of electrified floats traveled from 42nd Street to Fifth Avenue and 66th Street with included attendees such as Lauren Hutton, Harvey Keitel, Andy Garcia, Barbara Walters, Michael Bolton, and Marilu Henner, as well as Olympic athletes who later rode on thirty floats in the parade. The media event was not without controversy as former New York mayor Ed Koch objected to surrendering the city over Disney, and critics raising questions about what politicians are willing to give a private firm in return for investment. Also, nearly 100 members of National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians used the occasion to strike for a new contract from Disney/ABC, with local union President Tony Capitano who complained that "I think the Mayor gave away the city to Disneyland", and 5,000 businesses and residents who felt unusually eerie upon being asked to dim their lights as the parade passed. Following the parade, a private party was held at the Chelsea Piers complex, where dinner guests was served to a performance of Susan Egan singing songs from the movie along the Hudson River, and ten minutes of fireworks display.
Additionally, the film was accompanied with a marketing campaign with promotional tie-ins with 85 licensees including McDonald's, Mattel, Nestlé, Hallmark, and various merchandise. A tie-in video game, titled Hercules Action Game, was developed by Eurocom and released in July 1997 for the PC and PlayStation. Another tie-in game was developed by Tiertex Design Studios and was released for the Game Boy by THQ the same month. Hercules was also received the first Disney on Ice adaptation before the film was theatrically released.
Hercules was first released on VHS and widescreen laserdisc in the United States on February 3, 1998, included as an installment of the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection series. By the summer of 1998, sales and rentals of the VHS release had accumulated to $165 million. Released on November 9, 1999, Hercules was released in a "Limited Issue" DVD for a limited sixty-day time period before going into moratorium. Launching in January 2000, Walt Disney Home Video began the Gold Classic Collection, with Hercules re-issued on VHS and DVD on August 1, 2000. The DVD contained the film in its 1.66:1 aspect ratio and THX-certified, and was accompanied with special features including "The Making of Hercules" documentary video and the "Go The Distance" music video sung by Ricky Martin, as well as an "Animals of the Outback" activity booklet. The film was released on a Special Edition Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD on June 10, 2014. On September 1, 2017, Hercules became available on Netflix.
Wall Street analysts estimated that Hercules could bring in between $125 to $150 million in the United States, based on the extensive marketing campaign and having a lighter, humorous tone similar to Aladdin.Hercules began its limited release in North America on June 13, 1997, playing in one selected theater. The film earned $249,567 in box office receipts during the weekend of June 13-15, standing at the thirteenth place in the box office ranking. On the following weekend, the film grossed $1.45 million in two weeks when it expanded into two selected theaters. The general release followed on June 27, 1997, in 2,621 screens. During the weekend of June 27-29, box office analysts estimated that Hercules earned $21.5 million ranking second behind Face/Off, which grossed $22.7 million.
In its first two weeks of general release, Hercules amounted $58 million in box office grosses, compared to Pocahontas (which took in $80 million) and The Lion King (which grossed $119 million) in their respective two weeks. Considered a disappointment among Disney shareholders, Disney's stock price slipped 9.7 percent by which executives blamed the film's box office performance on "more competition". By its third weekend, Buena Vista Pictures Distribution president Dick Cook confessed that competing family films such as Men in Black and Batman and Robin played a role in the downward box office performance, but projected the film would receive a worldwide gross of $300 million. Likewise, entertainment analysts also targeted Herculess lack of appeal for adults and teenagers compared to Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King, which served as date movies and family outings. By spring 1998, Hercules grossed $99 million, and the international totals for Hercules raised its gross to $253 million.
Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported the film has an approval rating of 84% based on 55 reviews, with an average rating of 7/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Fast-paced and packed with dozens of pop culture references, Hercules might not measure up with the true classics of the Disney pantheon, but it's still plenty of fun." Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.
James Woods received universal acclaim from film reviewers for his vocal performance as Hades. Reviewing for Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman graded the film an A- acclaiming that it was Woods' most exciting performance since Salvador publishing that "Woods' performance is an inspired piece of deadpan vaudeville. His dry jocularity is hilariously incongruous -- he's like a hostile, wisecracking salesman trapped in the body of the Antichrist."Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote a positive review of the film, enjoying the story as well as the animation. Ebert also praised Woods' portrayal of Hades, stating that Woods brings "something of the same verbal inventiveness that Robin Williams brought to Aladdin". Similarly, Chicago Tribune film reviewer Gene Siskel, while awarding the film 2 out of 4 stars, complimented that "the only memorable character in the film is the nicely drawn villain Hades (voice by James Woods), who seeks to turn Hercules to the dark side. Hades supplies the genie-like patter that Robin Williams provided in Aladdin." Janet Maslin of The New York Times also praised Woods' performance remarking "Woods shows off the full verve of an edgy Scarfe villain", and added "On any level, earthly or otherwise, the ingenious new animated Hercules is pretty divine."James Berardinelli, film critic for ReelViews, awarded the film 3 out of 4 stars writing, "the real star of the show is James Woods, whose Hades is the most vibrant Disney creation since Robin Williams' Genie. Hades is a lively villain with a great repertoire of one-liners. And, although Woods isn't as much of a vocal chameleon as Williams, he's close enough that it hardly matters."
The Scarfe-inspired animation style received mixed reviews with Berardinelli labeling it as the film's most disappointing aspect noting "this approach makes the film look rushed and, at times, incomplete. It is never a visual marvel - even the computer-generated scenes fail to impress. The sequences intended to offer the biggest spectacle - Olympus and the Underworld - provoke little more than a yawn." Likewise, Siskel noted his surprise of "how soft and cheap the animation looks." Writing for The Washington Post, Desson Howe criticized the animation as being "some of the worst I've ever cringed through, including the corner-cutting junk of Don Bluth movies and every trashy cartoon that passes for entertainment on Saturday morning television. In Hercules, ancient Thebes looks like a hastily sketched field-trip location from public TV's The Magic School Bus; and no self-respecting immortal would be seen dead in this simplistic rendition of Mount Olympus. Nevertheless, Kenneth Turan of Los Angeles Times noted the animation "has just enough of a different look to it to make things interesting" and praised the Hydra as a technological marvel. Likewise, the music received a mixed response with Rita Kempley of Washington Post writing "Like the other songs by Disney veteran Alan Menken and his new lyricist, David Zippel (City of Angels), the number gets the job done, but it doesn't topple the temple. The score is influenced by gospel, Broadway musicals, processional music and R&B, but its only spice is its variety."Variety film critic Leonard Klady noted the lack of distinctiveness of the music writing Menken "is hitting too many tired notes in his sixth animated score" and "there's simply not a song in the piece that has you humming as you exit the theater, and ballads such as "Go the Distance" will require aggressive repetition to register as playlist material."
Disney intended for the film to have an open-air premiere at Pnyx hill, but the Greek government declined after the Greek media and public panned the film. A Greek newspaper entitled Adesmevtos Typos called it "another case of foreigners distorting our history and culture just to suit their commercial interests".
|Academy Awards||Best Original Song||"Go the Distance"
(Alan Menken, Composer; David Zippel, Lyricist)
|Golden Globes||Best Original Song||"Go the Distance"||Nominated|
|Saturn Award||Best Fantasy Film||Nominated|
|Blockbuster Entertainment Awards||Favorite Animated Family Movie||Nominated|
|Favorite Song from a Movie||"Go the Distance"||Nominated|
|Young Artist Award||Best Performance in a Voice Over Role Young Actor||Josh Keaton for Young Hercules's voice||Nominated|
|Annie Awards||Animated Theatrical Feature||Nominated|
|Individual Achievement in Producing||Alice Dewey, John Musker, Ron Clements (Producers)||Won|
|Individual Achievement in Directing||John Musker and Ron Clements (Directors)||Won|
|Individual Achievement for Animation||Ken Duncan (Supervising Animator for "Meg")||Nominated|
|Nik Ranieri (Supervising Animator for "Hades")||Won|
|Individual Achievement in Effects Animation||Mauro Maressa (Effects Supervisor)||Won|
On February 6, 2019, it was announced that a theatrical adaptation of the film would premiere at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park as part of its annual Shakespeare in the Park festival from August 31 until September 8. Menken and Zippel will return to compose and write the songs, while Kristoffer Diaz will write the book, Lear deBessonet will direct and Chase Brock will choreograph. The cast will include Jelani Alladin (Hercules), Roger Bart (Hades), Jeff Hiller (Panic), James Monroe Iglehart (Phil), Ramona Keller (Thalia), Tamika Lawrence (Calliope), Krysta Rodriguez (Meg), and Rema Webb (Terpsichore).