Disney’s Hercules was released 20 years ago, placing it right in the middle of the studio’s renaissance. With directorial team Musker and Clements at the helm and music from Alan Menken, it seemed impossible for Hercules not to sit amongst Disney’s most memorable and well regarded features — yet it’s rare you’d ever see the characters on merchandise at the Disney Store, and meeting Hercules and Megara is an activity relegated to Long Lost Friends week at Disneyland. Hercules is fondly remembered by many (including myself) but it hasn’t achieved the inescapable cultural relevance and longevity of Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King.
In her excellent video essay Hercules, Disney’s Beautiful Hot Mess, Lindsay Ellis points out the failings and disparate cultural reference points of the movie, stating that “Hercules isn’t just Rocky and Superman, he’s also Michael Jordan.” Despite agreeing with Lindsay that Hercules is far from a perfect example of filmmaking, I still can’t help but love it. There is something about the art style, the characters and the musical numbers that for me, make it compulsively rewatchable.
“Megara is the real Disney Princess who never was.”
Hercules has everything; narration from a singing greek chorus, a queer coded villain, and a sassy sardonic love interest. Megara is the real Disney Princess who never was, but of course she is far too morally ambiguous; you can’t start off in league with the villain and then be allowed to stand alongside the likes of Snow White. Meg is relatable, compelling and self possessed enough to never become the damsel in distress (or she is a damsel in distress, but she can handle it). As Lindsay Ellis states, “Meg’s character arc is much stronger than Hercules’ because her stakes are much higher, her dilemma more intense and her motivations clearer. Even though history has taught her that she can’t trust men or her feelings.”
Meg was willing to give herself over to Hades to save a partner who ultimately betrayed her, and when she meets Hercules she is cautiously learning to love and trust again. This is a struggle that is easy for me and many other young women to empathise with. Finding love after heartbreak is hard whether you’re looking for it in ancient Thebes or on Tinder. Even Megara’s habit of disguising her real feelings behind a veil of quips and snarky one liners is understandable, and despite the ancient greek mythos she’s a modern millennial woman complete with neurosis and insecurities.
Hercules might be the the boy wonder, who somehow ended up with the lion’s share of parental figures when it comes to Disney Movies (adoptive parents, biological parents and a mentor? Seriously, this above all else seems a little unfair). And as much as I love watching his quest to become a Hero, it’s mainly Meg, and to a lesser extent Hades and of course the Muses, who are the driving forces behind me coming back for yet another rewatch.
Image via Disney Screencaps