September 29, 2018

DISNEY'S HERCULES: THE ANIMATED SERIES

DISNEY’S HERCULES: THE ANIMATED SERIES
(ABC, Syndication, August 31, 1998-March 1, 1999)

Walt Disney Television, Walt Disney Television Animation, Pattyson/Meadows Productions, PorchLight Entertainment




MAIN CAST:
Frank WelkerPegasus, Ajax, Catoblepas, Cerberus, Chimera, Ladon, Gegeines (2nd time), The Man-Eating Mares, The Three-Headed Sea Serpent
Robert Stack – Bob (the narrator)


            In 1992, Disney opened up pitches to thirty writers, artists and animators for potential animated features. Joe Haidar decided to model his pitch around Greek mythology and created a brief outline following Hercules in the Trojan War. Hercules was greenlit for development, but Haidar’s involvement with it ended after a page and a half treatment. Instead, Aladdin directors Ron Clements and John Musker took on the project in an arrangement with studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg to produce another commercially viable film in order to work on their own project, Treasure Planet.

Young Hercules character model.


            Clements and Musker researched Greek mythology extensively and decided they needed to abandon the traditional story of Hercules; especially his being birthed from an affair between Zeus and the mortal Alcmene. Ultimately, they settled on making Hercules the son of Zeus and Hera, replacing Hera with Hades as the villain of the piece feeling that the darkness of the underworld contrasted so nicely with the majesty of Olympus, as well as offered a lot of visual possibilities. Hercules would be a na├»ve character torn between two worlds, with a Danny DeVito-type sidekick and a world-wise heroine in a battle of idealism versus cynicism. After multiple meetings and conferences, Clements and Musker wrote their first draft. Don McEnery and Bob Shaw were brought in to work on refining the script, which was concurrently rewritten by Irene Mecchi to add more humor in order to combat criticisms over the dark tones of previous releases Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.



            Hercules followed Hades (James Woods), ruler of the underworld, who was plotting to free the Titans in a bid to conquer Olympus. The only hitch: Zeus (Rip Torn) and Hera’s (Samantha Eggar) new son, Hercules (Tate Donovan, Josh Keaton as a teen), could stop him. He sent his minions, Pain (Bobcat Goldthwait) and Panic (Matt Frewer), to abduct the baby and turn him mortal; however, the job was only half completed and Hercules retained his strength. He was found, adopted and raised by farmers Amphitryon (Hal Holbrook) and Alcmene (Barbara Barrie) until Zeus appeared to him in his teenaged years and told him he could reclaim his godhood by becoming a true hero. He was sent to train with satyr Philoctetes (or “Phil” for short, voiced by DeVito), and met and fell for Megara (Susan Egan) in his travels. Unfortunately, Megara turned out to be a minion for Hades whom he used in a ploy to get Hercules to shed his powers and allow Hades to remove him from his plans once and for all.

Character size comparison models.

            The film’s visual style and characters were designed by Gerald Scarfe, whose Time magazine cover of the Beatles was fondly remembered by Clements and Musker, and whose style they felt closely resembled the style seen painted on Greek vases. In casting Donovan in the title role, the producers felt he brought a “charming yet innocent” quality into his readings. Supervising animator Andreas Deja integrated those qualities into Hercules’ expressions. Egan had auditioned for every Disney animated feature since Beauty and the Beast (which she ended up playing in on Broadway) and was almost barred from auditioning for Hercules, but was given the chance and found to be perfect for the role. Supervising animator Ken Duncan said Meg was “based on a ‘40s screwball comedienne” and Greek shapes were used in her hair. DeVito was always envisioned as playing Phil, but he initially turned down the role. When he finally signed on, supervising animator Eric Goldberg incorporated his mouth movements into Phil, as well as getting inspiration from Grumpy (Pinto Colvig) in Snow White and Bacchus in Fantasia. Hades was initially supposed to be darker and more menacing, but James Woods’ manner of speaking proved a better fit for the character. Woods ad-libbed a lot of his lines and gave Hades a Hollywood agent/car salesman vibe. Supervising animator Nik Ranieri could take up to two weeks to animate a one-second scene due to Woods’ vocal speed. Frank Welker was cast as Hercules’ flying horse, Pegasus, and Pain was conceived with Goldthwait in mind, although he still had to audition for the role.

Zeus and Hera with baby Hercules and Pegasus.

            Hercules opened in theaters on June 27, 1997. Despite mostly positive critical reception, the film ended up underperforming compared to previous films and ended up earning only $252.7 million at the box office. Buena Vista Pictures Distribution president Dick Cook blamed it on competition from Men in Black and Batman and Robin, while others felt the animated stylings were disappointing appeared unfinished. The film also received a bit of controversy when Disney attempted to have an open-air premier at Pnyx hill, but the Greek government declined when their media and public panned the film for its distortion of the mythology. To date, Hercules is the only film released during the period known as the Disney Renaissance not to have a sequel or prequel made.

The Muses, jazzing up the narration.

            Despite the underwhelming performance, Disney felt the film would be perfect for a television series. Tad Stones was placed in charge of the show, following Clements and Musker once again as he also adapted Aladdin to the small screen. Stones decided to largely ignore the continuity of the movie and focused on staying true to the elements of humor and adventure, which he felt led the team to produce a stronger series. Most of the film’s cast signed on to reprise their roles; especially Woods, who had so much fun voicing Hades that he offered to forfeit his salary when production was running over budget. Corey Burton ended up taking over the role of Zeus; Tress MacNeille succeeded Amanda Plummer as Clotho, one of the Fates; Robert Costanzo took over Phil; and Robert Stack replaced Charlton Heston as Bob, the show’s unseen narrator.

Cassandra and Icarus.

            Disney’s Hercules: The Animated Series debuted in syndication on August 31, 1998 and as part of ABC’s One Saturday Morning programming block on September 12, 1998, running concurrently for 65 episodes. At the time of its airing, it was the third series centered around the character, along with Renaissance PicturesHercules: The Legendary Journeys and Young Hercules. The series was produced by Walt Disney Television Animation, along with Pattyson/Meadows Productions and PorchLight Entertainment, and was animated by Toon City Animation, Inc., Walt Disney Animation Australia, Walt Disney Animation Japan, Studios Basara, Tama Productions, Delta Peak Productions, Frontier Pictures, Win Wood Productions, Nakamura Productions, Wang Film Productions Co., Ltd., Thai Wang Films Productions Co., Ltd., Hanho Heung-Up Co., Ltd., Plus One Animation, Inc., Sunmin Image Pictures Co., Ltd., Sunwoo Animation, Korea, Hana Animation, Jade Animations International Co., Ltd., and Slightly Off Beat Productions NZ Co., Ltd. While the style of the show was kept close to the film, it was simplified somewhat by removing the ethereal glow from the Olympians and shortening the smoke trail left by Hades’ fire.

Hades with Pain and Panic.

            Hercules was a prequel of sorts set during the film’s song “One Last Hope”, while Hercules was still a teenager training with Phil on the Isle of Idra. When not training, Hercules attended Prometheus Academy, which served as an ancient Greek parody of modern high school. Hercules’ friends there was Icarus (French Stewart), a free-spirit who was “brain-fried” from flying too close to the sun and often ended up in trouble that Hercules had to rescue him from. He was hopelessly infatuated with Hercules’ other friend, Cassandra (Sandra Bernhard). Cassandra was an attractive though anti-social girl who received bad visions from the future. Hades served as the main antagonist, constantly plotting to gain control of Mount Olympus from Zeus with the aid of Pain and Panic. Unlike the film, Hades was aware that Hercules was alive as a teen and often targeted him for reasons other than the grand scheme from the film (which was never mentioned). Hercules would also wear his adult outfit from the film from time to time.

Adonis shows off.

Hercules also had a school rival in the form of Adonis (Diedrich Bader), the cowardly, narcissistic prince of Thrace who was a frenemy to Hercules and Icarus (and who would lead Meg into trouble with Hades before the film). Other students included Helen of Troy (Jodi Benson), the most popular girl in school who tried to keep her boyfriend, Adonis, from being too much of a jerk; Melampus (Ethan Embry), who was attracted to Cassandra and was a comic-scroll fanboy; Pandora (http://www.jennavonoy.com), a student with a locker full of mysteries; Tempest (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a quick-tempered Amazon warrior princess; Ajax (grunts by Welker), a barbarian student with bad hygiene; Andromeda (Kath Soucie), a new student that attracted Hercules; Electra (Joey Lauren Adams), a goth student whose anger summoned vicious Furies; and Anaxarete (Cree Summer), Hercules’ brief girlfriend.

Jealousy makes Galatea ugly.

The series borrowed heavily from Greek mythology, sometimes putting Hercules in adventures he never starred in. It also relied on movie, television and fairy tale parodies, making liberal use of pop culture references and anachronisms. The series was written by Neil Alsip, Adam Armus, Robert Askin, John Behnke, Jim Bernstein, Bill Braunstein, Marcy Brown, Kevin Campbell, Cade Chilcoat, Robert Cohen, Mirith J. Colao, Mark Edward Edens, Michael Edens, Nora Kay Foster, Don Gillies, Eddie Guzelian, Dennis Haley, Randolph Heard, David Hemingson, Kevin Hopps, Rob Humphrey, Emily Kapnek, Ken Koonce, Richard Liebmann-Smith, Mark McCorkle, Laura McCreary, Michael A. Medlock, Michael Merton, Bill Motz, Madellaine Paxson, Jim Peterson, Michael Price, Bob Roth, Bruce Reid Schaefer, Robert Schooley, Michael Shipley, Gary Sperling, Richard Stanley, Jan Strnad, Brian Swenlin, Greg Weisman, Jon Weisman and Jess Winfield. The series’ music was composed by Adam Berry and J. Eric Schmidt. The series’ theme was a modified version of the film’s song, “Zero to Hero, by Alan Menken and David Zippel. It was performed by The Muses from the movie: Calliope (Lillas White), Cilo (Vaneese Y. Thomas), Thaleia (Roz Ryan), Terpsichore (LaChanze) and Melpomene (Cheryl Freeman). The muses would also make appearances throughout the series, although Terpsichore was the only one to actually interact with Hercules directly in teaching him how to dance.  The intro ended with a bolt of lightning engraving the episode’s title under the series’ title at the base of a Hercules statue.

Medusa develops a crush on Hercules.

            Because of the cast involved, the series attracted many notable actors in guest-starring roles; earning the series the record for the most guest-stars in a single season. Some were cast to type or as a play on a particular role they played, such as Bob Keeshan playing storyteller Aesop; Mandy Patinkin, who played a doctor on Chicago Hope, was medical practitioner Hippocrates; Mike Connors, former star of Mannix, played Athenian police officer Chipacles; fitness guru Richard Simmons played Hercules’ gym teacher, Physedipus; Eric Idle was long-winded guidance counselor, Parenthesis (which was also a speech inflection as well as a name); talk show host Merv Griffin played a griffin who hosted a talk show; gameshow host Wink Martindale played The Sphinx, who hosted a trivia show with impossible questions; Ben Stein as the monotoned Trivia, god of useless information; George Takei, best known for his role as Sulu on Star Trek, was astronomy teacher Ptolemy; Dan Castellaneta, who plays Homer on The Simpsons, was cast as another Homer, a journalist who tended to exaggerate; William Shatner, Captain Kirk from Star Trek, as another captain in Jason, the leader of the Argonauts; and Jennifer Aniston, who was dating Donovan at the time, as Galatea, a statue brought to life to be Hercules’ girlfriend (Donovan also guest-starred on Anniston’s show, Friends, but following their break-up). Then there were those cast in roles opposite of their normal, such as the lovely Jennifer Love Hewitt playing the ugly Medusa; and improvisational comedian Jonathan Katz played Morpheus, God of Dreams. Other guest-stars not often seen in animation included Cary Elwes as Paris; Nicholas Turturro as Meleager; Eric Stoltz as Theseus; Reba McEntire as Artemis; Wayne Newton as Croesus; Craig Ferguson as Agent Epsilon; Jeffrey Tambor as King Salmoneus; Emeril Lagasse as King Darius; Jack Carter as Tiresias; Eugene Levy as King Midas; Tia Carrere as Marigold; Jerry Stiller as The Caucasian Eagle; and Jane Leeves as Athena, amongst others.

Hercules and Aladdin.

            Probably the most interesting—and unlikely—guest-stars were from Stones’ previous series, Aladdin. Hades and Jafar (Jonathan Freeman) met in the underworld and decided to team-up to destroy their respective enemies. The episode featured Aladdin (Scott Weinger), Jasmine (Linda Larkin), Abu (Welker) and Carpet, with a brief appearance by Genie’s fist (likely because neither Castellaneta or Robin Williams were available for the role). Dialogue and the absence of Iago (Gilbert Gottfried) indicated that the episode took place after Aladdin and the King of Thieves film. While one could argue the time periods of Hercules and Aladdin should be farther apart realistically, the concept did fit in with previous continuity as Genie had mentioned racing with Hercules in The Return of Jafar film.

Panic and Pain grab a young Meg.

            Despite the time period of the series, Meg also made two appearances with Egan reprising the role. In “Hercules and the Aetolian Amphora”, they crossed paths as Hercules helped her to retrieve a stolen piece of property, but retain no memory of their meeting after being doused with water that erased memories. The second time was in “Hercules and the Yearbook”, which was set after the film and had Hercules and Meg married. Meg stumbled upon Hercules’ yearbook and Phil proceeded to tell her about some of the misadventures he had during his school years. “Yearbook” also served as the framing sequence for the direct-to-video film, Hercules: Zero to Hero. The film, which took its name from one of the first film’s songs, was a compilation of the episodes “Hercules and the First Day of School”, “Hercules and the Grim Avenger” and “Hercules and the Visit from Zeus”. Dialogue from “Yearbook” was altered to fit the new “flashbacks”. The film, released on VHS on August 17, 1999, was largely panned for being promoted as a new film but actually being just a compilation of previously released material.

Zero to Hero VHS cover.

            Despite its popularity, the series only ran for the single season before ending its run and begin relegated to reruns on the defunct Toon Disney in 2000. Between 1999 and 2000, the series was nominated for four Emmy Awards, of which Woods won one for his portrayal of Hades. It was also nominated for a Golden Reel Award for sound editing. To date, Zero to Hero is the only release of the series on home video, and it hasn’t even seen re-release on DVD.



EPISODE GUIDE:
“Hercules and the First Day of School” (9/12/98) – When Hercules is humiliated by Adonis, he challenges Orthos the Bi-Clops to a battle.

“Hercules and the World’s First Doctor” (9/9/98) – Hades targets Hippocrates whose work as a doctor is reducing the underworld’s intake.

 “Hercules and the Driving Test” (9/26/98) – Hercules bets Adonis that he can get his license by sunset, as do Zeus and Hermes with Hades with the Elysian Fields at stake.

“Hercules and the King of Thessaly” (9/1/98) – Hercules is made the king of Thessaly and he enjoys it before people begin coming to him to solve their problems.

“Hercules and the Secret Weapon” (9/2/98) – Athena tasks Hercules with learning what Ares’ new secret weapon is, but Hercules ends up agreeing to destroy Athens for Ares.

“Hercules and the Griffin” (11/20/98) – In Hercules’ attempts to bond with a gruff old griffin, he accidentally reveals the diamond he was guarding to Arismap.

 “Hercules and the Techno Greeks” (9/8/98) – Tempest offers to protect the Techno Greeks from centaur attacks, but is forced out of the city when Hercules takes the job instead.

 “Hercules and the Visit From Zeus” (9/19/98) – Zeus tries to give Hercules advice at how to deal with Adonis, and in failing that tries to make a point by becoming a teenager.

“Hercules and the Parents Weekend” (10/3/98) – Hercules expects his godly parents to show up, but is disappointed when his mortal parents come instead.

“Hercules and the Poseidon’s Cup Adventure” (11/14/98) – Poseidon holds a boat race in his honor, and Hercules’ boasting leads to his unleashing Charybdis on the racers.

“Hercules and the Bacchanal” (9/21/98) – Hercules and Hermes allow a Bacchanal on the island, which Poseidon sinks after it wakes him up.

“Hercules and the River Styx” (9/7/98) – Hades has Poseidon move the River Styx to include Greece, and Hercules is tortured by what he hates the most: shop class.

“Hercules and the Apollo Mission” (8/31/98) – Hercules is made driver of the sun chariot as Hades plots to steal the sun from it and bring it to the underworld and cause panic on Earth.

“Hercules and the Prometheus Affair” (10/10/98) – Hercules frees Prometheus, which Hades uses his advantage against them.

“Hercules and the Dream Date” (11/2/98) – Needing a date for a dance, Hercules asks Aphrodite to bring a statue of Galatea to life and to have her be crazy about him.

“Hercules and the Underworld Takeover” (9/23/98) – Hectate plans to take over the underworld, and Pain and Panic turn to Hercules for help.

“Hercules and the Song of Circe” (10/29/98) – Circe attracts all the boys and turns them into animals, leaving Cassandra and Helen to rescue them.

“Hercules and the Epic Adventure” (11/7/98) – Hercules is afraid of what his friends will think of his poem while Orthos comes looking for revenge.

“Hercules and the Hero of Athens” (10/17/98) – Icarus believes he defeated the Nemean Lion (not Hercules), and becomes a superhero after Phil refuses to train him.

“Hercules and the Pool Party” (9/10/98) – Hades throws a pool party for all the gods, but has them swim in the Pool of Forgetfulness so that he can take over Olympus.

“Hercules and the Owl of Athens” (9/17/98) – Ares has Athena’s owl stolen in retaliation for a joke she played on him, and the owl-sitting Hercules has to use his wits to get him back.

“Hercules and the Drama Festival” (10/14/98) – Hades plans to use the Cronus Stone to put all the gods to sleep, and Icarus will be its delivery system.

 “Hercules and the Big Kiss” (9/4/98) – Cassandra goes to great lengths to keep a vision of her kissing Icarus from coming true.

“Hercules and the Prince of Thrace” (9/11/98) – Adonis enlists Hercules’ help to retrieve a Golden Apple in order to lift the curse Gaia placed on him.

“Hercules and the Caledonian Boar” (10/31/98) – When Hercules is unable to kill a boar on a hunt, Artemis declares him their protector while turning Phil into a boar himself.

“Hercules and the Tapestry of Fate” (9/14/98) – When Hercules and Icarus reweave fate so that they can attend a concert, Hades gets the idea to reweave it himself and change everything.

“Hercules and the Living Legend” (9/15/98) – Realizing Phil’s training is key to Hercules’ success, Hades restores Achilles to his former body and makes it so Phil ends up training him instead.

“Hercules and the Muse of Dance” (11/21/98) – Adonis volunteers the rhythmless Hercules for the school dance, and Terpsichore tries to help him out.

“Hercules and the Gorgon” (1/9/99) – Medusa gets a crush on Hercules and appeals to the gods to make her beautiful.

“Hercules and the Muse of Dance” (11/21/98) – Adonis volunteers the rhythmless Hercules for the school dance, and Terpsichore tries to help him out.

“Hercules and the Trojan War” (10/30/98) – When the Trojan high school kidnaps Helen, the Prometheus students attempt to sneak in by hiding in a wooden horse.

“Hercules and the Minotaur” (11/13/98) – Daedalus takes a job building the Minotaur’s maze, which is where Hercules ends up on a challenge.

“Hercules and the Kids” (11/28/98) – Hercules acts as a guest-teacher at the Jr. Prometheus Academy and finds his class of kids hard to handle.

“Hercules and the Return of Typhon” (9/16/98) – When Hercules attempts to protect Athens from Echinda, he accidentally releases Typhon the Titan.

“Hercules and the Disappearing Heroes” (10/5/98) – Hectate makes another play for the underworld by stealing the abilities of others to empower herself.

“Hercules and the Hostage Crisis” (10/2/98) – Titan worshipers take the school hostage and demand Hercules become their prisoner.

“Hercules and the Girdle of Hippolyte” (9/18/98) – Queen Hippolyte believes Tempest is going soft, so she abducts her from the school and puts her into a savage initiation ceremony.

“Hercules and the Argonauts” (10/8/98) – Hercules wants to become a hero so Phil gets him a spot with the Argonauts, which ends up causing them and Jason to be stranded on a deserted island.

“Hercules and the Jilt Trip” (11/6/98) – Phil sets Hercules up with a gig to get his mind off Anaxarete and it ends up putting him into the middle of another couple’s relationship problem.

“Hercules and the Phil Factor” (10/16/98) – Chiron points out that Phil has never been a hero and shouldn’t be able to train them, so Hercules tries to help Phil be a hero.

“Hercules and the Big Games” (11/4/98) – Hades wants Ares to start a war, but with Hercules competing in the Big Games Zeus declares no interference from the other gods.

“Hercules and the Big Sink” (12/11/98) – When Cassandra predicts Atlantis will sink, Croesus hires Hades to get rid of her.

“Hercules and the Falling Stars” (11/10/98) – Hercules calls on Orion to help his archery, but his absence from the constellations allows creatures from the Zodiac to escape.

“Hercules and the Golden Touch” (11/12/98) – Hercules is enlisted by Epsilon to bring down the greedy King Midas.

“Hercules and the King for a Day” (11/24/98) – Hercules forces Phil to visit his mother which lands him on the throne and the target of Nemesis.

“Hercules and the Big Lie” (12/16/98) – When Hercules lies that he has a disease to get out of going to a convention with Icarus, Icarus sets out to find a cure.

“Hercules and the Sn of Poseidon” (11/16/98) – When Triton hears Hercules found him to be a nerd, he steals Poseidon’s trident and accidentally unleashes a sea monster.

“Hercules and the Prom” (12/21/98) – Hercules, Icarus and Hades all promise the services of Orpheus for their own needs.

“Hercules and the Pegasus Incident” (11/25/98) – A fight sends Pegasus off to find a new master.

“Hercules and the Assassin” (9/3/98) – Trying to impress an Amazon with Phil’s spear, Hercules almost hits the governor of Athens leading to Phil’s arrest.

“Hercules and the Comedy of Arrows” (9/29/98) – Hades has Pain and Panic infiltrate Cupid’s headquarters to stop the long life that spring love seems to bring.

“Hercules and the All Nighter” (10/21/98) – Hercules and Icarus put Morpheus to sleep so they have extra time to study, but Hades plans to keep him that way as his intake grows.

“Hercules and the Spartan Experience” (1/4/99) – Hercules helps Adonis get through the Spartan training corps so that he can become King of Thrace.

“Hercules and the Complex Electra” (1/13/99) – When Hercules falls for an anti-hero goth, he tris to change himself to appeal to her.

“Hercules and the Green-Eyed Monster” (1/16/99) – When Icarus becomes jealous of Daedalus and Thespis’ love, he unleashes the contents of Pandora’s box on her.

“Hercules and the Long Nightmare” (2/8/99) – Phantasos, wanting Morpheus’ job, spreads nightmares across the world.

“Hercules and the Arabian Night” (2/10/99) – Hades meets Jafar and decide to help each other defeat their enemies Hercules and Aladdin.

“Hercules and the Aetolian Amphora” (2/12/99) – Pain and Panic search for stolen water from the River Lethe while Hercules helps Megara find her grandmother’s Aetolian amphora.

“Hercules and the Romans” (2/15/99) – Icarus accidentally falls into Rome where he ends up worshipped as a god.

“Hercules and the Yearbook” (2/17/99) – While Hercules and Meg move stuff from Phil’s island, Hermes delivers Hercules’ yearbook prompting Phil to tell Meg stories about Hercules’ past.

“Hercules and the Odyssey Experience” (2/19/99) – Hercules accidentally ends up out at sea with the awkward Telemachus and three ex Argo crew members.

“Hercules and the Grim Avenger” (2/22/99) – To stop the Minotaur’s rampage, Hercules teams up with the mysterious superhero, the Grim Avenger.

“Hercules and the Spring of Canathus” (2/24/99) – Pain and Panic douse Icarus, Pegasus, Adonis, Hercules and even Pain with water that turns them into babies.

“Hercules and the Big Show” (2/26/99) – On a talk show, Hercules and Hades’ greatest victories are shown to a captive audience.

“Hercules and the Tiff on Olympus” (3/1/99) – When Zeus and Hera have a fight after Zeus forgets their anniversary, Hades sees a way to expand their rift.

Film:
“Zero to Hero” (8/17/99) – When Meg finds Hercules’ school yearbook, Phil proceeds to tell her about some of his misadventures as a teen.

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