Hercules was Disney’s take on the legendary demi-god of Greek myth. Originally the son of Zeus and a mortal woman, Hercules is now presented as a full god, the son of Zeus and Hera. Unfortunately, his godhood is short-lived, as the jealous Hades (who secretly wants to overthrow Zeus, go figure), having been informed that a grown Hercules would ruin his plans, decides to have the baby god turned mortal and then killed. Thankfully, his (un)reliable henchmen Pain and Panic botch the job and thus Hercules grows up as an awkward mortal with incredible strength.
But before we get to all of that, there’s a short prologue that begins in what appears to be an old museum filled with the relics of Ancient Greece. The narrator should sound familiar: that’s the legendary Charlton Heston in one of his final roles before he retired from acting in 2003.
There are actually nine Muses in Greek mythology, but I’m guessing that the animators wanted to simplify things and cut the number down to five.
With Heston’s voice, the first section of the prologue has a very serious tone until…the Muses (on the Greek vase) interrupt him and inform him that “we’ll take it from here darling.” After that, the entire feel of the prologue changes from serious to…well, a “Disney” feel.
“Gospel Truth” serves multiple purposes: It introduces the Muses (who narrate various portions of the film), it summarizes how Zeus came into power (by defeating the Titans and imprisoning them) and finally it describes how all the gods live on Mount Olympus. The picture then shifts from a painted image of Mount Olympus to a “live” image that quickly zooms the audience up to the fantastic dwelling of the Greek gods.
I love this song a lot. Given that this is a film about Ancient Greece, you would not expect to hear songs performed in the “Gospel” style, but it works! It gets a lot of story exposition across without boring the audience. I also love how the song is narrated through art “come to life” that’s done in the style of actual Greek pottery.
Art like this inspired the animators
After the dark tone presented in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), the studio practically demanded that the next film be a lot lighter and happier, and so that’s why Hercules is filled with so many comedic moments.
James Woods (the voice of Hades) allegedly enjoyed playing the character so much that he and Disney put a standing arrangement in place where anytime they needed him to voice the character, he would come do it.
Rip Torn (the voice of Zeus) was married to Geraldine Page, who voiced Madame Medusa in The Rescuers (1977).
And that’s my look at the beginning of Disney’s Hercules! I’m just going to be bouncing around from song to song for a while, later in the summer I’ll come back to the “one film at a time” approach. Enjoy the rest of Thursday!
*all images are the property of Walt Disney Studios
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