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After a year where Disney released a whopping four remakes, the news dropped late last week that the Mouse House is working on a live-action remake of its 1942 animated classic Bambi. This was relatively unsurprising as over the past six years or so the company’s live-action remakes have been a key component of Disney’s box office dominance, alongside Star Wars, Marvel and the dual animation powerhouses of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Bambi is now added to the list of remakes that Disney has in the works, and folks, it’s a long list. We have Mulan coming up in a couple of months, but over the past few years, we’ve heard about a ton of other Disney movies that are getting remade or reimagined in live-action, including but not limited to: Cruella, Godmothered, The Little Mermaid, The Sword in the Stone, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Peter Pan & Wendy, Lilo & Stitch and Pinocchio. There is a notable omission from that list though.
I’m talking about Hercules, the 1997 film from directors Ron Clements and John Musker that exists as part of the heralded Disney Renaissance years. Hercules is such an obvious choice to make the jump to the live-action realm that I'm surprising it hasn’t happened yet. Still, other than a few rumors here and there, Hercules does not seem to be on the docket for the live-action remake treatment at the moment. It should be.
The following is exactly why Disney needs to do a live-action Hercules remake as soon as possible.
It Could Have The Scale Of An Epic Blockbuster
Based on the initial report about the Bambi remake, that film will maintain the smaller scale of the classic forest tale and Disney won’t be shoehorning in a larger narrative to elevate the remake to blockbuster levels. So we won’t be seeing any epic battles in Bambi, and that’s great news. However, it’s not controversial to say that many of Disney’s live-action remakes, as is the case with the majority of the studio's films, have occupied the blockbuster space.
Disney plays primarily in the blockbuster sandbox that it dominates in, which makes the lack of a Hercules remake all the more surprising. That’s because Hercules could and almost assuredly would have the scale of an epic blockbuster (Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet would also qualify) on par with some of Disney’s biggest movies. We’re talking about a story that essentially stars an ancient mythological superhero!
Zeus throws lightning bolts, Hercules battles hydras and the Cyclops, and there are flying horses, Titans and the God of the Underworld. Hercules is a blockbuster through and through, and unlike some other Disney live-action remakes, Hercules has all those components out of the box, so there’s no need to shoehorn things or alter the story to make it feel bigger, potentially at the expense of what made it special in the first place.
Simply put, Disney does blockbusters and it has one just sitting there waiting to get made with Hercules. Now I’ll admit I totally understand Martin Scorsese’s problems with the marketplace being dominated by blockbusters and franchises, but if that is what we’re getting, the least we can hope for is some variety, and on that account Hercules should deliver.
Hercules Could Be Very Unique
Disney’s upcoming remake of Mulan has drawn some ire from fans for going away from the musical elements of the 1998 animated movie and instead going for a more realistic, war film vibe. That might work for that movie, but I don’t think there’s any point in adapting Hercules to live-action if it’s just going to be another special effects-laden swords-and-sandals epic in a long line of them. By leaning into the style of the animated movie and embracing the Disney-ness of it all, the Hercules remake could really stand out.
Unlike Mulan, I would argue that the Hercules live-action remake should keep the musical component and be as light and fun and silly as the original. We see humor in blockbusters all the time; however, you don’t often see characters breaking into song in the same movie where they’re battling giant monsters. There would be nothing else really like it in the movie marketplace right now.
I don’t know that it would ultimately work, but it sure would be cool to try. Because Hercules is not as sacred as some of Disney’s other classics, I think the filmmakers would have greater leeway to really experiment too and try some really out there stuff without too much backlash.
I’m not going to pretend that the 1997 animated Hercules belongs in the upper echelon of Disney’s animated classics, but it certainly isn’t one of the studio’s worst movies and taking it into live-action has the potential to give us something really different than most other blockbusters: a live-action, action-packed, mythological fantasy epic musical.
Hercules Has Sequel Potential
I have previously pondered the question of what happens when Disney runs out of animated classics to remake. At the current rate, that question must be answered sooner rather than later. Two possible solutions would be for the company to remake less popular, acclaimed films and to do sequels for the live-action remakes. Hercules could test both of those theories.
Disney could find a way to make a sequel for anything, but some stories are a more natural fit for continuations than others. Aladdin is, Cinderella isn’t. Hercules lends itself to sequels because it literally has a built-in mythology with the Greek/Roman mythology it is based on. In the Disney film, Philoctetes was the trainer of Jason and Achilles, and those are the kinds of mythological figures that could make an appearance in a sequel.
Maybe Odysseus could be a part of Hercules 2 or different gods could play a bigger role? As evidenced by Hercules: The Legendary Journeys TV series and the God of War videogame series, there are tons of stories that could be told by drawing inspiration from Greek mythology.
Furthermore, whereas romance stories like Beauty and the Beast do not naturally lend themselves to continuations, big action spectacles like Hercules certainly do. So a Hercules live-action remake is easily franchise-able and could be part of Disney’s blockbuster slate for at least a couple of entries.
Why It Hasn’t Happened Yet
So with what I perceive to be the advantages of a Hercules live-action remake, why hasn’t it happened yet and why does it seem like it isn’t even in the pipeline? To a degree Hercules’ omission is understandable. As massive as Disney is, it can only make so many movies at once and the company has naturally prioritized its most beloved, popular and iconic titles.
Hercules may be more popular and acclaimed than something like The Black Cauldron and Oliver & Company, but it isn’t in that top tier of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ output. That means the big four of the Disney Renaissance and the princess stories have taken precedence.
There is also the fact that the Hercules character is public domain and Disney doesn’t own him. The same is true with public domain stories like Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, but those tales have essentially become defined by and primarily associated with their Disney adaptations. That is not the case to the same degree with other Disney animated properties and their inspiration such as Robin Hood, Peter Pan and yes, Hercules.
Hercules doesn’t have that kind of brand identification and there are other Hercules movies, such as the 2014 live-action film starring The Rock. Therefore Disney may not see a Hercules live-action remake as a guaranteed slam dunk in the way other remakes have been. And Hercules would have to be a winner because it would not be cheap.
That’s perhaps the real reason Hercules hasn’t happened yet. To do this film justice in live-action would be prohibitively expensive and unlike The Lion King, the return on that substantial investment may seem less certain.
Nevertheless, Hercules could make for an interesting and unique live-action remake that would fit well within Disney’s blockbuster-centric theatrical slate. Given the chance, I suspect a Hercules live-action remake can go the distance.
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