Our story begins before Hercules, many years ago…
That’s pretty much how the Disney version of Hercules starts.
Atlantis starts a little differently: Shouting, someone yells “You fool! You’ve destroyed us all!” A wierd crystal thingy pulls a woman into itself, and a whole city sinks beneath the wave. Fast forward to 1914.
Why am I tackling both movies in one review, well, they’re short. And another reason is that they both get a lot of flack in the Disney fandom, which I think is undeserved. Or maybe it’s in the anti-Disney fandom.
You all know what I think of Disney and how stupid I find most of the criticisms against it, but it’s also a little strange that I like two movies that both have very different ideas of the gods than I do. (I know folks who won’t touch movies like that, you see.)
Well, I do draw the line somewhere when it comes to magic and other religions, but not here. The reason is simple: Hercules isn’t saying Greek gods are real any more than Sleeping Beauty is saying fairy godmothers are real. It’s pretend, and it’s used to tell a story, not to tell us what to believe. Which is very different from other sources which might use the same material. (Like the Heroes of Olympus series. I’m looking at you Riordan.)
Atlantis is a little more iffy, but I go with it because I like the movie and have never had problems with the mystical side. Plus, it’s still not meant to be taken seriously.
It has been awhile since I’ve seen it though.
But essentially, what I like about these movies is the same, they use a more unconventional approach to make a profound point in a way a child can understand and an adult can mull over.
Hercules is straightforward: He’s stolen from his godly parents, raised by mortals, goes off to seek his true home, becomes a big shot hero after a lot of training, and ultimately earns back his immortality.
But the person that makes the entire movie for me is Meg, his love interest. At first I never liked her, and didn’t like the movie all that much, but once I got older I started to understand the story better. Meg is working for Hades, the bad guy, and hates it and him; but has no choice because she sold her soul to him to save an ungrateful boyfriend who then left her. Meg is only eighteen so we’ll blame her age for her poor choice of men. But now, more cynical and bitter, she mistrusts Hercules up until his humility and unpretentiousness win her over.
What makes this a little different from the usual girl-learns-to-love-again plot line is that Hercules is entirely honest about being nice to Meg and she knows it. It’s actually her conscience that drives her to the conclusion that she can’t help Hades anymore, only it’s her love that gives her the courage to face him. Things go tough for Meg because though Hades can’t make her choose to obey him, he can bind her and gag her and use her as a pawn, which he does.
I almost cried along with her when Hercules finds out she was helping Hades but doesn’t know she changed her mind and tried to get out of it. In the end Meg figures she’s lost Hercules but goes and get his trainer Phil in order to save his life, and then saves it herself by throwing herself under a pillar and pushing him out of the way.
After Hercules returns the favor and saves her life, she thinks he’s going to be immortal and decides to quietly walk out of the picture, but Hercules decides to stay with her instead. everyone lives happily ever after.
Now, that is fairly predictable, but it’s still plenty of food for thought. Hercules is a bit of a Christ Character. an immortal becoming mortal and being a hero, ultimately laying down his life to save his love, and earning his immortality through that. And the message that a Hero is measured by the strength of his heart is nothing new, but that’s because it’s true.
The movie is smart to point this out, because Hercules becomes a hero to everyone and earns fame, but all he wants is to go home. He starts to get a big head for a brief time but as soon as he finds out all this is not enough, he quickly goes back to being humble and questioning is he’s really such a hero. He has no conflict about doing the right thing, his only weakness being that he’ll sacrifice the greater good to save Meg. If you could say that’s wrong.
Making Hercules humble was the only way to make him heroic, in my opinion, and the movie passes it off believably.
Also that Hercules father guides him and is the king of all the gods lends more weight to the Christ Character idea. I don’t think that was intentional or that the movie needed that, it’s just interesting.
But the way the Christ parallel is actually important is this: Meg, unlike most Disney Princesses, is not perfect or always on the right side. She makes serious mistakes, and even her self sacrifice only makes up for it, it doesn’t erase it. This is a sobering thing to have with out female lead. Meg actually needs forgiveness, she really needs it.
We all know that this would be true of any princess, but we don’t see it with anyone else up until Merida and Elsa come on the scene much later. (Well, in my opinion, Ariel too, but she’s not called on it.)
The fact that Hercules accepts this about her but chooses to believe in her best is what really makes his character.
And that’s where Meg gives us hope, if we let her, the hope that there is forgiveness for your mistakes, and you can be free from your bondage. And that there is someone who will give up everything for you and do it gladly. I hate that some people think Meg would be haunted by that later in life, why, she’s lucky. Few of us get that kind of love in an earthly life.
But Herc is really a heavenly being after all.
I’ll dive in to Atlantis (ha ha) in part two, until then–Natasha.