I rewatched Disneys Hercules for the first time in my post-adolescent life the other night. It didn’t take very long into the movie for me to start catching cultural references that went right over my head as a child.
I could definitely spend all day breaking down the movie, but I am going to only lay out my top 10 cultural references I missed.
- My Little Pony. Towards the end of the film, Pain and Anxiety transform into a pink female horse to tempt Pegasus away from Hercules so he can make a deal with Hades. These two little characters have caused quite a lot of trouble throughout the film. But unlike the other things they transformed into, the pink horse they took the form of had a heart-shaped tattoo on its butt. It didn’t take much googling to find that the toy company tried to revive itself in 97, the same year Hercules came out. I wonder was it product placement or an animator’s childhood creeping in?
- Venus De Milo. During Hercules date with Meg, he skips a rock across a fountain. That rock hits a statue that is standing, knocking off the two arms. Hercules has just finished the famous Venus De Milo that we know today. As a kid, I had no idea how FAMOUS that statue was.
- Marilyn Monroe. When I think of Marilyn Monroe and her most famous moment I draw in my mind the image of her standing over a grate having her white dress skirt blown up in The Seven Year Itch. Of course, as a kid I had no idea why when Hercules flew past the stars a girl, matching Monroe, dress’s skirt flew up.
- Narcissus. This one might be my favorite line of shade thrown in the movie. Hermes tells Zeus at his baby showing off event (not really sure what to call it?) that he “hasn’t seen this much love in a room since Narcissus discovered himself”. It got me curious as to if he was a real god or not. So I googled it. And turns out in Greek mythology he is, and he is the root of the word narcissism. The more you know! (anyone else remember the star from their childhood?)
- Hercules stores. This one is almost reflecting of the viewers. I have been to Disneyland before and grew up in a time when movies such as the Lion King, Hercules, Toy Story, Aladdin, Beauty and The Beast, Mulan, Bugs Life, Tarzan…All these movies had become so important in childhood cultural. I can remember having all the movies on VHS. I remember having the toys and being in love with the films, singing along to the tunes. In the film the people of the towns are so obsessed with Hercules, they wear his shoes, drink his soda, buy his action figures. Basically what all of us were doing at the time in the 90s, and still today.
- Scar. As mentioned before Lion King was a big deal when I was a kid. I was OBSESSED with it. And what I never realized watching Hercules as a kid was that dear old twisted Uncle Scar makes an appearance. Hercules is being painted onto a vase and is wearing Scar on his head. Maybe glad I didn’t get this one as a kid.
- Weaknesses. Hades is discussing how everything has a weakness. I don’t think this was super essential to the plot line but it gave me a good chuckle. He compared weakness as Pandora to its box and The Trojans to betting on the wrong horse.
- Oedipus Rex. I read the play when I was a sophomore in high school. And for anyone who hasn’t read it, the play is kinda disturbing to its core. Hercules even starts to mention that he thought his life was messed up but after seeing the play Oedipus, and then he gets cut off, making many parents happy they didn’t have to explain the Oedipus complex to a five-year-old.
- Phil’s would be heroes. Phil, the small little goat man? Anyways, Hercules seeks him out, the trainer of heroes, to help him become a true hero. Phil tells him he doesn’t do it anymore, listing off like every hero in Greek mythology. Seriously, this man trained all of the big names. Jason and the Argonauts, Cleopatra, Odysseus, Perseus, all the seus, Achilles.
- Damsels not needing saving. This is my favorite. Hercules thinks he sees a damsel in distress, the thing he has been training for all those years. He goes to rescue Meg, but she snarkily replies that she’s a damsel in distress but doesn’t need saving. I want to be her so bad! Yes, girl, you don’t need saving. You don’t need to be rescued. Meg, Mulan, Lilo, Moana (and I’m sure more leading ladies). They didn’t need a man to come by and defeat the bad guy for them. They took charge, they had the balls to be their own hero. Go on damsels in distress, go on and save yourselves, I believe in you.
These are just my top ten. A few mentionables are Meg getting struck by statute cupids arrow before singing I won’t say I’m in love, The Fates talking about how big indoor plumbing will be, and Hercules tossing an alien spaceship shaped like a saucer.