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13 Things We Learned About the Making of HERCULES at D23 Expo

It’s been 20 years since the release of Disney’s Hercules. The animated film explored the mythology of the legend and delved into how he became a hero. To celebrate the anniversary, D23 Expo 2017 had a panel looking back on the making of the movie. “Zero to Hero: The Making of Hercules” featured writers, directors, and producers Ron Clements and John Musker, animators Eric Goldberg and Ken Duncan, and the voices of Hercules and Megara, Tate Donovan and Susan Egan.

The Hercules retrospective went all the way back. Ron and John shared concept art, test footage, and interesting history about the making of Hercules. While it might be old hat to hardcore Disney fans, we thought it would be fun to share these tidbits from the panel:

A Different Syntax


Before the Muses jumped in to start Herc’s story, Ron and John wanted a serious narrator. They managed to nab Charlton Heston for the role. Clements said Heston came into record and had a question about the syntax of a line. Instead of ending his intro with, “You go, girl,” he wanted to say, “Go ahead, young lady.”

The Gospel Truth

Sometime before he passed away in 1991, Howard Ashman recommended the musical The Gospel at Colonus to Musker. When it came time to work on the music for Hercules, Musker remembered that musical (it’s a version of Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus) and that was the impetus to have a gospel chorus in the film.

Superheroes and Sports


Ron and John had just wrapped work on Aladdin, and thought they were going to dive into Treasure Planet. Disney asked them to do another film before Treasure Planet, and out of 30 or so projects in development, they chose Hercules. Clements said they liked that it focused on Greek mythology and that Disney hadn’t done much in that world aside from a segment in Fantasia.

They also liked it because they saw it as a superhero movie. Clements said Herc was one of the very first superheroes and likened his qualities to Superman. Since Ron and John have been comic book fans since the ’60s, they wanted to make their version of Hercules as a superhero movie and a sports movie. They saw Hercules as Michael Jordan of the story.

Comic Influences

Since Greek mythology can be heavy-handed and reverent, Ron and John went a different route. They wanted to be irreverent, so they leaned into comedy. They were inspired by screwball comedies of the ’30s and ’40s. There’s a little of Jimmy Stewart’s character in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in Hercules, and a little of Barbara Stanwyck’s character in The Lady Eve in Megara.



Ron and John didn’t find Hercules to be the brightest bulb. He’s heavy on the brawn, not so much on the brains. But they didn’t want their hero to be a dumb guy, so they made him more naive and idealistic instead. He’s an idealist surrounded by cynics. The central theme of the film isn’t good vs. evil, it’s idealism vs. cynicism.

Los Angeles Inspirations

You know how Phil talks about all the problems in Thebes? He calls it a dangerous place, a city in turmoil. Citizens cite earthquakes, fires, and floods. This was partially inspired by what was happening in Northridge in 1994 after the big earthquake. They were living through chaos while they were developing Hercules.


Another L.A. tie is the Getty Villa in Malibu. The museum influenced the design of Hercules’ home.

Multiple Heads

Ron and John brought British caricaturist Gerald Scarfe to the team to glue the whole look of Hercules together. He was key in designing characters and settings. He worked on the hydra, and to ensure all the monster’s┬áheads looked the same, they used computer graphics. One of Scarfe’s drawings of a hydra head was turned into a wire frame model and then duplicated.



To gather reference for the animators, Ron and John ran through scenes in the live-action format. This included Herc battling a cardboard hydra and even a music video of “Zero to Hero” with performing Muses (watch it below). They did their best to emulate the video for En Vogue’s “Free Your Mind” from 1992.

Unique Characteristic


Animator Eric Goldberg worked on Philoctetes, a.k.a. Phil, and said while actor Danny DeVito was recording “One Last Hope,” he noticed something he’d never seen before. He said DeVito had a different mouth shape; he called it the “under the nose bow tie.” Goldberg took that mouth shape and used it for Phil throughout the film.

Pottery Body



Animator Ken Duncan was responsible for bringing Megara to life, and like other characters, she went through a process. At first, he tried to go realistic with her. As he kept exploring ideas and trying to incorporate the shapes of Grecian pottery into Meg’s hair, he just decided to make her body from pottery. He constructed her body and various poses from pottery, as illustrated in the above sketches.

Other Heroes

Tate Donovan remembered back to his audition for the role of Hercules and said all the biggest stars of his age were there, including Charlie Sheen and Kiefer Sutherland.

Beauty to Sass


Susan Egan had to ask Disney over and over to be allowed to audition. She was voicing Belle in the Broadway version Beauty and the Beast at the time, and they weren’t convinced she could sound different. They shouldn’t have worried. Egan said, “When I’m Belle, I’m acting. Meg is right where I live.”

One line Egan read during her audition was, “My friends call me Meg. At least they would if I had any friends.” Though Egan tried to replicate her exact line reading when she was recording on Hercules nine months later, she couldn’t exactly duplicate it. Ron and John liked the delivery from the audition so much that they processed it (the audition material wasn’t meant to be used in the film so it wasn’t recorded with that in mind) and used the dialogue from the audition in the finished film.

Guardian Horse


When young Hercules is singing “Go the Distance,” and sees a shooting star, that star is actually Pegasus watching out for Herc from afar. Aww. I’m not crying, you’re crying.

Images: Disney, Tumblr/Jenna

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