03 December, 2011


sorry for spamming you guys with this, but I figured it would be entertaining to at least one person. I kind of think both these papers are bullshit--I mean they were pass/fail and I had a lot of stuff going on so I wrote about themes that are easy for me to find in anything. But I do think the fact that these themes are so easy to find indicates a lot about how deep in the values are.


Supernatural conditions are sometimes portrayed as being analogous to disabilities; for example, telepathy in True Blood or lycanthropy in the Harry Potter books. It’s not necessary that the analogously “disabled” character lack an ability that other people have, as long as he or she has the wrong abilities compared to other people. Hercules is easily interpreted as part of the magic-as-disability tradition, as his super strength impairs his ability to live normally and fit in with his community.

Hercules can sometimes use his super strength to do chores for his adoptive parents but, perhaps because he lives in a world set up for humans with an ordinary level of strength, he often expends too much strength and ends up breaking buildings and injuring people, which causes him to be unpopular in his community, which labels him a “freak.” Although his adoptive parents love Hercules, they come to accept that he doesn’t fit in their community and must journey elsewhere to be successful.

Hercules’s journey can be seen as a positive message for viewers with disabilities or other people who don’t match the standards of their community. As he moves into different environments and roles--training with Phil, performing heroic deeds in Thebes, partying on Mount Olympus as a god among gods--we see that Hercules, who was not good at anything in his parents’ town, can be good at everything when different things are expected of him. However, his clumsiness isn’t completely cured when he becomes a hero, and this is realistic. He also chooses an imperfect existence as a human over existence as a god, where he presumably wouldn’t have to deal with the issue of clumsiness--showing that if he has a life he’s proud of and happy with, he doesn’t mind not being good at everything.

Like many magic-as-disability works of fiction, Hercules fails to deliver a completely positive message about disability because the resolution of the “disabled” character’s problems is less than applicable to real life. Ultimately, a character with super strength can’t be a real disabled character for two reasons. First, super strength doesn’t resemble any real-life disability so it’s not as easy to identify Hercules as disabled, which limits his ability to be a role model for disabled kids or bring images of disabled people into the minds of non-disabled kids. (This isn’t necessarily the case for all “magical” disabilities; a magical illness, for example, can be easily read as resembling a real illness.) Second, Hercules finds a solution for his problems that’s nearly perfect, and steps into a new life where he’s universally admired. While it is important to show that someone who’s labelled a loser or a freak can be successful by different standards, Hercules’s tremendous success is somewhat problematic because it sets a standard viewers, not having superpowers, may not be able to aspire to or identify with.

Notably, the magic-as-disability aspects of the character are not at all present in the original myth. In the myth, Hercules/Heracles’s problems come from a fact that is completely excised from the movie; Hera, his father’s wife, is not his mother, and even though he lives with his mother and stepfather instead of on Olympus, Hera nonetheless hates him and causes him various problems. Although evil stepmothers are certainly acceptable in Disney movies, the portrayal of infidelity that would be required by an accurate adaptation of the myth would probably be considered inappropriate for a children’s movie. Therefore, the villain of Hercules’s story becomes Hades, who is not evil in classical mythology; and Hercules’s main motivation comes from within.

Protagonists who are unpopular, or who are initially perceived as “losers,” can be appealing in American movies, but don’t really fit with classical values, which had less of a focus on the individual. In the Disney movie, Hercules doesn’t want to be a hero for the sake of glory or other more classical values, but for more modern reasons, and ones that position him as a minority or an outcast in his community, in the same way as other Disney characters like Belle and Mulan.


  1. And this is why I'm glad most of my classes don't involve writing papers.

    Disney movies do involve a lot of trying to reinforce societal values though. Like how mulan is ostensibly about a woman breaking traditional gender roles and doing things that men normally only get to do, but the only way she can do this is by learning to be a "real man" where she is judged by physical strength, etc. And then the happy ending involves her going back home, wearing impractical clothes etc, and getting married to a man. Like the whole thing was just her coming to terms with being a woman (implied to mean being a woman in the traditional sense).

    If you actually start to think about some of this stuff it can be kind of alarming.

  2. Oh the actual mulan supposedly fought for over a decade and was especially good at it, so this is one instance were ancient china was more progressive than Disney.