Final Post: Disney’s Ability to Revise Explicit Greek Gods to a G-rated Children’s Cartoon

Greek mythology once influenced the lives, beliefs, and cultures of the people of Ancient Greek times. These myths were an indication of the sophistication that these Greek societies held, but, with a very basic knowledge of Greek mythology, this sophistication is quickly questioned. The gods, goddesses, heroes, heroines, creatures and creations that these myths are centered on committed actions that have little to no concern for morality, they were the cause of bloody battles, torture, bodies torn from limb to limb, and many other grotesque events. Thanks to the preservation of Ancient Greek art and the oral retelling of myths, which soon became written, people today have a window where they are able to view these explicit myths and the roles that they played in the everyday lives of the Ancient Greeks. It is inevitable that as stories get passed along they will become modified and manipulated. But is it respectful or appropriate for today’s film producers and storywriters to take these once explicit worshipped myths and characters and turn them into something that would earn a G rating in a cinema? Disney’s 1997 Hercules has taken myths and characters, which were once, gut wrenching to those who based their lives and culture around them, into a humorous and heart-warming children’s film. Disney’s “new approach to the ancient world is … a wrong approach” [1], producers are ignorant to the concrete myths that have been influential factors in the lives of the ancient Greek people and they manipulate these myths to create a cartoon that is satisfying to children.

Greek myths are certainly enticing, but they are definitely not something that today’s world would encourage children to dwell on. Parents are frowned upon when they allow their children to play violent video games and they are pressured to refrain from purchasing them. Yet Disney is able to take these explicit myths and serve them up to children of all ages. Because of Disney’s ability to transform these myths into a child appropriate creation parents are more than likely oblivious to the hidden messages and stories that their children are soaking up. The blame for this cannot be put on the shoulders of the parents; Disney does a remarkable job with the transformation of Greek mythology – so great that there is no obvious evidence of brutal slaughter, incest and infidelity. With an analysis of the Gods presented in Ancient Greek art the question as to how Disney is able to turn these myths into something child appropriate and whether or not it is was respectful for them to do this is heightened and becomes more of a hot topic.

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Cronus engulfing his child born from his sister Rhea

Looking at the most widely know Greek God, Zeus, there are some major red flags and concerns for child appropriateness. Zeus was the result of incest between two titans, Cronus and Rhea – first red flag. An oracle told Zeus that one of his children would kill him, second red flag, and so every time his consort/sister gave birth he would swallow the child, third red flag. About half way through this one myth we are already seeing some extreme issues that would not be encouraged in the lives of children – incest, children murdering their parents, and, the most grotesque one, eating their own children. It does not end here, the red flags continue popping up. After Cronus had disposed of 5 of his children, Rhea decided she had enough and hatched a plan, mind you this took five devoured children. She gave birth to her sixth child and sent him to Crete where he would be raised by a goat-nymph, fourth red flag – we don’t send our children straight from the womb to be raised by goats. Once Zeus was grown and strong the goat let the cat out of the bag. She told Zeus about who he truly was and what his father had done to the rest of his siblings. Zeus was outraged and sought revenge and told his intentions to the titaness Metis, who gave him a drug that would save his siblings. Long story short, Zeus managed to get Cronus to take this drug, which caused him to vomit up his children – red flag number five, the fact that he was able to regurgitate his children is just disturbing. A war between the Gods, Zeus and his siblings, and the Titans, the Gods’ parents, was then hatched. With the assistants of the cyclones the Gods were victorious and became the rulers of Mount Olympus and controlled the cosmos.

The Disney recreation of Zeus lacks the very prominent features that make him up in Greek mythology. Disney’s Zeus is devoted and madly in love with his wife Hera and it is presumed, not that this would cross a child’s mind while watching a cartoon, that he would never be unfaithful to her. But, despite the cartoon “Zeus’ relations with his wife were far from tranquil.”[2] In Greek myths, Zeus is the father of many, due to his rambunctious sexual interactions with many different mortals and Goddesses, he “had begun a series of liaisons with female divinities”[3]. Disney leaves this out. Instead, the children that he fathered in the myths become his friends and helpers in the movie. Why did Disney leave this out? A movie that earns a G-rating would not include a detailed record of a characters sexual partners and illegitimate children that resulted from it. If Disney had included this, a good percentage of the Gods and Goddesses would be calling him father, another portion would be looking for their child support and the others would be waging war with him because of his sexual relations and rape with/of their wives and daughters. Long story short, Zeus probably would not have been as well liked as Disney makes him to be. With the lack of these characteristics, Disney had to fill in the gaps with something. They made Zeus kind, caring and humorous. Disney’s Zeus has a little bit of a temper, like the Greek mythological Zeus, but nowhere near as close in extremity. Like many of the other situations, Disney makes this somewhat humorous.

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Prometheus sentenced by Zeus to be tortured

Another, less popular, myth that emphasizes the brutality and grotesque actions of the characters involved in Greek myths is the story about Zeus and Prometheus. Prometheus was believed to be the creator of the human race. He was a mythical craftsman who formed the humans and also taught them many things about the ways of life. The most important teaching
that Prometheus gave to the people, to this myth, was how to properly sacrifice. A bull was killed and the people didn’t know what part to save for themselves and what part to offer for the Gods, so Prometheus cleverly wrapped the meat in the bull’s skin and wrapped the bones in the fat. Zeus chose the pile of fat and bone and became outraged, so he refused humans fire. Because Prometheus was for humanity, he took their side. He stole fire from the Gods and gave it to the people so they could cook their meat and heat their homes. Zeus was obviously outraged by the fact that one of his own kind was able to steal from him and so he came up with a punishment. This punishment was no slap on the wrist and then sent to be on his way like many first offenses would normally be, instead Zeus chained Prometheus to a rock and had an eagle rip his mid section apart and peck at his liver all day long. It would normally be presumed that this slow torture would eventually result in death – au contraire. Gods cannot die they are immortal, Prometheus’ liver would have just enough time in the evening to heal up and be ready to be ripped and pecked apart by the eagle the next day. Prometheus endured this for thousands of years.

We are then left with a Greek Hero who is a praised and worshipped by most children, Hercules. Without even an analysis of the character we see a bold Disney revision. The Greek myth knows this hero as Heracles, rather than what today’s children know him as, Hercules. Heracles is the illegitimate son of Zeus. Zeus had committed infidelity against his wife Hera, and impregnated a mortal woman. This isn’t just a case of a husband cheating on his wife where his mistress has some sort of knowledge of what is occurring. Zeus had disguised himself as this woman’s husband, impregnates her, and then returned to be with his wife, Hera. With obvious reason for disgust and jealousy, Hera showed great hatred towards Heracles – so great she attempted to murder him as an infant and, with that failure, she drove him to slaughter his wife and children. With this brutal crime, Heracles was to be punished. King Eurystheus of Mycenae came up with 12 apparently impossible tasks as punishment. These labors required Heracles to kill, steal, slaughter, and battle – keep in mind that this is the figure that Disney has influenced children to idolize. These labors where not expected to be completed, but because of Heracles amazing strength, courage and bravery, he prevailed.

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The efforts of Heracles with his 12 labours

Greek myths also include mythical beings that young children find themselves fantasizing over. Nymphs, hybrid races and the fates are aspects of Greek mythology and are also included in Disney’s Hercules. These “bizarre beings” [4] shared human and animal features – this is “a way of combining contrasting psychological qualities in one creature. Greek mythology examples of these hybrid races are nymphs, centaurs, and Cyclopes, two of which are present in the Disney film. These creatures were known to “intervene in human affairs”[5] in both beneficial and detrimental ways. The physical appearance and special abilities of these creatures are fascinating; especially to children and this is the only probable reason as to why they are present in children movies. Even with the knowledge of their malicious ways, nymphs, Cyclopes, and the three fates managed to make their way into a G-rated film.

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Greek mythology depiction of nymphs

Nymphs are beautiful female creatures draped in white cloth decked with flowers. They are normally associated with a specific area, like a forest, river, or spring. They are able to move swiftly and invisibly, fly, and slip through tiny places. To add the enticement these characters have, their legs are unnatural, meaning they normally have legs like those of a donkey, cow, or goat. Despite their obvious beauty, being the one of the only characteristics that Disney decided to include, nymphs were believed to cause harm to humans due to infatuation, madness, and stroke. This was because these creatures commonly appeared in whirlwinds.

Cyclopes’ are ginormous mythical creatures who are distinguished by their third eye. They are not the brightest light bulbs, but they are great in stature and are well endowed when it comes to physical strength. The Cyclopes in Disney’s Hercules only had one eye, but his massive size and strength was clearly prominent, as were his lack of brains (in both his actions and head size). Again, instead of focusing on the internalized characteristics, Disney put much of its focus on the appearance of this creature. He was extremely large, like the myths and art depict, but the cartoon artists had to add weight to him. So he was not just large in stature, he was exceedingly obese – which Disney has made humorous in the eyes of children. Disney seemed to love the fact that this specific creature was known to be a little dull, and so they accentuated this in every means possible.

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Greek mythology representation of the Three Fates

Another group of mythical beings that play a large role in Greek mythology are the Fates. Disney portrays them as three sisters who are somewhat goofy and easily deceived. They share and fight over a single eyeball, which allows them to see into the future. Their role in the movie is to control the lives of mortals by spinning a thread, stretching it out, and then cutting it. Disney has inevitably made death humorous with these three beings and the help of Hades. The film portrays the soul of a recently deceased human entering the underworld, and instead of a mourning sense, it’s seen as a game show or contest. After the soul, the soul of a once apparently young and beautiful girl, passes through the gates of the underworld there is a cheery bell that is congratulating the soul for being a specific, high, number that has passed through. This scene is literally celebrated an extremely high rate of death. But because of Disney’s ability to turn even the most gruesome event into something that is humorous, this scene is not perceived that way. The Greek myths see the fates as the controllers of destiny. One set life in motion, another spun the thread of life, and the other cut it (page 32). They did not share an eyeball; each of them had their own pair of healthy eyes. They also looked like women, instead of the goofy shriveled up creatures that Disney created.

Disney's representation of the Three Fates

Disney’s representation of the Three Fates

Here is where the main question originates from; how do these explicit myths make their way into Disney movies for the entertainment of children? It is quite evident that they are modified; they would have to be in order for them to get a rating of G. But what possesses someone to manipulate and change the culture of a once great civilization? These myths that controlled and constructed the lives of the Ancient Greeks are extremely interesting and intriguing. With just this alone it became evident to Disney producers that these stories would gain lots of attention, and more importantly, revenue. To turn these myths into something more appropriate for children would bring in loads of money – not just from the film, but also from the merchandise that could be created.

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Greek mythology’s depiction of Heracles

Producers cut out the ideas of incest, eating ones own children, infidelity, slaughter, murder, torture, and nudity. They kept an aspect of violence, but they dimmed it. Sticking with the main Disney character, instead of portraying Heracles slaughtering a lion, skinning it, and wearing it as a trophy, we have Hercules literally kicking a lion in the butt and then he was shown in a completely separate scene wearing a lions skin, one that doesn’t quite match the skin of the lion he had defeated, so the gruesome idea of him killing and wearing his opponent is lacking from the movie. There are also battles, but they are modified to be entertaining for children, like the battle between Hercules and the Hydra. This was the second labor of Heracles. But instead of showing an epic bloody battle where heads were being cut off and stumps were being cauterized Disney makes it more child appropriate. Instead of making a realistic bloody red scene, they have neon green slime – which takes away the idea that Hercules is actually slaughtering a living-breathing creature. Producers have also created humorous aspects to this scene by creating an audience whose comments and conversations are taken as jokes to children. The cauterizing of stumps is left out of the movie – perhaps to emphasize Hercules’ strength or maybe because this part of the myth was just too difficult to convert into something that wouldn’t disturb children. At the end of the battle Hercules is left victorious. Instead of slaying the monster in a way that is gory and bloody, like the original myths suggest, Hercules simply covers the monster in heavy stones – which does not necessarily mean the monster is dead; this protects the children from this harsh reality.

It is obvious that Disney has come up with, and mastered, ways of camouflaging disturbing stories and myths in order to create a successful entertaining cartoon for children. Producers and artists have taken the art and stories surrounding it from ancient Greece and morphed it into something more acceptable for they younger audiences of today’s society. This can be seen in a very negative light. Some may argue that it is degrading in the sense that it takes away the firm beliefs of an ancient society in order to please today’s society and that it also allows children to worship the incorrect telling of mythical events and characters. Others may see what Disney has done in a positive light. The fact that Disney is broadcasting stories and myths from ancient times could be perceived as a modern version of oral story telling, the way that these myths and stories had originally been handed down. This radiates positivity because, in a sense, it is keeping a deceased time alive. But, “it takes special qualities to make a tale survive from generation to generation – to make it traditional”[6]. Disney does not do this, instead they completely change the myths and combine bits and pieces of multiple myths to get the ideal story for a children’s cartoon. This is  destructive and deceiving to both Greek mythology and the audiences of this film.

Children are not apt to pick apart the single myth that Disney has presented and discover that the story they have just watched is a combination. Instead, they will see what Disney places in from of them. Like the passing of the soul into the underworld; instead of seeing it as a sign of death, they see it as a game and are cheery about it – this scene of death is bringing smiles to children’s faces! But of course they do not interpret this scene the way an adult may. Children find themselves infatuated with these heroic and supernatural characters because of their abilities and stories, but they are only seeing the aspects of the characters that Disney feels would enchant them. It is questionable how Disney is able to do this. Maybe because it seems morally wrong to allow unknowing children to fantasize and idolize such explicit characters and events. The fact that children have given celebrity status and immense amounts of attention to ancient characters that were once the cause for ruthless deaths, battles, and morally wrong events is barbaric; Disney encourages this. Children become so in love with the ideas of these characters that action figures, stuffed toys, clothing, and even dinnerware have been sold. A popular plastic children’s plate, that  was popular at the time of the release of Disney’s Hercules, had an image of Hercules and it read, “I’m a meat and potatoes kind of guy!” Well no, he’s actually an illigetimate-son-of-zeus-who-brutally-murdered-his-wife-and-children kind of guy. Taking a look at something that may be more moving, the children’s song ring-around-the-rosie. This popular nursery rhyme goes as follows:

Ring around the rosie,

A pocket full of posies;

Ashes! Ashes!

We all fall down.

Children are seen dancing around in circles singing this rhyme, but the meaning behind it is dark and something that deserves an attitude that isn’t cheerful or playful. This nursery rhyme became popular in 1665, the time of the bubonic plague. It is in reference to the circular, rose-coloured rash that appeared on the flesh of those infected by the plague. The posie aspect reflects the belief at that time that these sweet herbs protected those from the plague because it was believed that it was transferred by bad smells. The final two lines refers directly to death, those who died were cremated. More than 60% of the population was wiped out by this infectious plague. Disney’s ability to manipulate Greek myths into something with a pretty appearance and humorous aspects allows children to completely disregard the meaning behind the actual stories, creating an unknowing barbaric enjoyment amongst children today.

Bibliography

[1] G.S., Kirk. “The Journal of Hellenic Studies.” 1972. Accessed November 21, 2014. Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/629974. 74.

[2] Tripp, Edward. “Z.” In The Meridian Handbook of Classical Mythology An Alphabetical Guide. New York, New York: Penguin Group, 2007. 606.

[3] Tripp, Edward. “Z.” In The Meridian Handbook of Classical Mythology An Alphabetical Guide. New York, New York: Penguin Group, 2007. 606.

[4] Wilkinson, Phillip. “Europe.” In Myths & Legends: An Illustrated Guide to Their Origins and Meanings. New York, New York: DK Publishing, 2009. 32.

[5] Wilkinson, Phillip. “Europe.” In Myths & Legends: An Illustrated Guide to Their Origins and Meanings. New York, New York: DK Publishing, 2009. 32.

[6] G.S., Kirk. “The Journal of Hellenic Studies.” 1972. Accessed November 21, 2014. Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/629974. 75.

Images:

Cronus eating child: http://9hmythology.wiki.hhh.k12.ny.us/Cronus+(Kronos)

Prometheus Torture: http://www.greek-gods.info/titans/prometheus/prometheus-statues.php?country=France

Heracles 12 Labors: http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=heracles+12+labors&FORM=HDRSC2#view=detail&id=5FD022C112EB0AFC6A3008BD8DD4CD06BE63CAD4&selectedIndex=44

Nymphs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nymph

Greek Mythology: Three Fates: http://www.thecultureconcept.com/circle/fate-and-destiny

Disney’s Hercules: Three Fates: http://pixgood.com/the-fates-hercules.html

Greek Mythology: Heracles:http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=heracles+and+the+hydra&id=B426C51E2A8BB75D8C9B1B73E4CCEDD3044616F8&FORM=IQFRBA#view=detail&id=B426C51E2A8BB75D8C9B1B73E4CCEDD3044616F8&selectedIndex=0