With the recent news announcing that The Hunchback of Notre Dame will get a live-action makeover (and Lady and the Tramp, as well, through the impending Disney+ streaming service), I’m starting to worry that you will go there, Disney. So, I’m asking now: Please, just leave it alone. Do not make my favorite movie into a live-action adaptation.
When Disney’s live-action remake machine first started, I had many friends ask how I felt about Hercules not being included. I think and write about Hercules often. In 2017, I detailed my obsession with the film’s true protagonist (and true villain) Megara for Entropy Magazine. I’m always down to talk about this movie because of its complexity and layers, a quality that has deemed it weaker, the eyes of many, among the traditional Disney canon.
The film, admittedly, tries to do too much at times, with its heavy-handed humor, sophisticated language, and the mutable tone from scene to scene. Hercules attempts to be a fun, light-hearted kids’ movie while also examining mature themes of healing and redemption (that’s the part of the movie I like best). Hercules takes risks and breaks the traditional Disney formula; it’s a complicated film, but that’s the very reason I love it.
My brain loves it, thinking through all the choices that went into its making. (Most recently, I was mulling over the reference to Oedipus in the garden scene, the play that Meg and Hercules see on their first date. Disney, that is so dark!) I’ve been thinking about this movie for over twenty years, since I first saw it at six years old, in a small theater in northern Michigan. I don’t really adhere to fandoms, but this is the hill I want to die on.
With the ever-growing list of remakes in your queue, with Aladdin and The Lion King on deck for this summer, I implore you, Disney: Leave Hercules alone. I strongly agree with Sam Barsanti from The A.V. Club when he says, “We just hope nobody touches Hercules, because it’s secretly the best animated Disney movie and it’s already perfect.” The charms and depth and intricacies of Hercules, the aspects that make it rich and interesting, all of this would vanish in a live-action adaptation.
Take, for example, Bill Condon’s live-action treatment of Beauty and the Beast (2017). These live-action remakes are marketed as event movies (akin to Avengers: Endgame), but suffice it to say, I did not go the theater to see Beauty and the Beast. My mom, sister, and I rented it at home, many months after its theatrical release. When the credits rolled, I was crying and also confused—confused as to why I was crying.
Clearly, I had been made to feel something, watching this overly ornate update of a childhood classic. Where did that feeling come from? I suspect where it really came from was the original, the beloved nineties film that populated my daily life as a kid. The emotion that overpowered me—hearing Alan Menken’s unmistakable score or seeing Belle’s golden ballgown—these were just shadows of feelings, echoes of the original masterpiece. As David Sims wrote in his review for The Atlantic, “With the new Beauty and the Beast, Disney has ripped a jewel out of its casing.”
Sims also describes this safe-bet formula you’ve landed on: “Take a beloved animated tale, …cast some big-name celebrities, and then dial the opulence factor up to 11, turning a film everyone remembers into a grand, if somewhat hollow, homage for a new generation.” You’ve chosen to recreate your old canon, shunning the opportunity for new narratives, new characters to explore. If that’s want you want to do, by all means, knock yourself out. Just stay away from Hercules.
Hercules is untouched, in many ways, by the Walt Disney Company’s need to milk its movies for every dime. With the sole exception of Hercules, every single Disney Renaissance film—The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Pocohontas (1995), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Mulan (1998), and Tarzan (1999)—got cringe-y, direct-to-video sequels. While Hercules did get an animated TV show on the Disney Channel, it was never spoiled by a terrible Disney sequel, movies which were often poorly-animated, unwanted, and unnecessary.
In 2017, a stage-musical adaptation of Hercules was announced as being in the works. Part of me is genuinely delighted that this story will be brought to life in a new medium. Part of me is skeptical. I mean, who could match Susan Egan’s (Meg) sultry voice? Or Tate Donavan’s (Hercules) earnestness? How could you reproduce the enormity of the Hydra and the Titans, or the blue flame of Hades’s hair?
I’m happy with my 1997 animated film, as is. No live-action remake could ever honor the original Hercules, or any Disney classic, for that matter, because I—and many Disney lovers, I imagine—want and deserve more than shadows of feelings.
P.S. If, however, you insist on making it and nothing will stop you, might I suggest casting Samantha Robinson from The Love Witch (2016) as Megara? I think her aesthetic and energy would be apt for the role. Just something to think about.
Emily Corwin is a recent graduate of the MFA program at Indiana University-Bloomington and the former Poetry Editor for Indiana Review. Her writing has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Ninth Letter, New South, THRUSH, and elsewhere. In 2018, her first book, tenderling was released from Stalking Horse Press and her second book, Sensorium is forthcoming with the University of Akron Press. You can follow her online at @exitlessblue.
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