Mulan, the titular character of the film “Mulan,” is part of the official Disney Princess line-up. Although I’ll discuss it more in-depth when I write about “Mulan,” this puzzles me because Mulan is neither born a princess nor does she end up with anyone of nobility. So since Mulan is a princess, I’ve decided to look at Meg, the main female character in “Hercules” since she ends up with a demi-god.
“Hercules” tells the story of Hercules (Tate Donovan/Josh Keaton/Roger Bart), the son of happy, monogamous Zeus (Rip Torn) and not-psychopathic Hera (Samantha Eggar). In order to fulfill a plot for Hades (James Woods) to take over Mount Olympus, Pain (Bobcat Goldthwait) and Panic (Matt Frewer) kidnap the baby Hercules and try to turn him mortal in order to be able to kill him. Their plan fails and Hercules retains superstrength, but he grows up believing that he is a freak. After finding out that he’s the son of Zeus, he goes to train with Phil (Danny DeVito). Once he’s completed his training, Hercules heads to Thebes and along the way he meets Meg (Susan Egan), a damsel in distress.
Up until this point, all of the character designs in the princess films felt like pretty standard Disney designs. With “Hercules” there are unique character designs that haven’t been seen in any other Disney films. There’s the truly grotesque cyclopes, the hunky Hercules, the varied designs of the muses, and the shapely, beautiful Meg. Watching the film it can be gathered that the animators looked at ancient Greek artwork for inspiration and a guide on the character designs. This helps both establish the settings for the film and give it a unique feel.
“Hercules” is filled with anachronisms, but I find that I have so much fun watching “Hercules” to really care about the anachronisms. While “Pocahontas” is a film that tries to be a Very Important Film, “Hercules” is a film that just wants to be fun, but it ends up helping the film soar rather than tumble. One of the greatest strengths of the film are the gospel-style songs performed by the Muses. In fact, “Hercules” has one of the best Disney songs ever done, which I’ll discuss later.
In terms of critiquing the film, I can’t think of anything I haven’t already said, so we’ll get to the main point.
But is Meg a Good Role Model for Children? Yes, actually.
Meg is the first Disney Princess who is presented as a flawed person. Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty are flawless. Ariel is rebellious, but it pays off in the end. Belle reads books and that distances her from the villagers, but it pays off. Pocahontas runs off a lot, but she’s still a great person. Meg actually feels like she sits in a moral grey area as she is presented as a damsel in distress who works for Hades. She shows that she’s one of the good guys as the film continues, but it isn’t immediately clear to us that’s the case.
What’s also unique about Meg is that she’s the second Disney character I can think of who is presented as a sexual being. (Frollo in “Hunchback of Notre Dame” is the first one that comes to my mind because of “Hellfire.”) We see women who swoon over Hercules, but she comes onto him and flirts with him. Even Gaston doesn’t really do that to Belle. There’s also dialogue between Hades and Meg where it’s revealed that Meg sold her soul to Hades to save her significant other’s life, only for him to chase off after some “babe.” So we also are given a character who is hurt because she was left for another woman, something never presented again in a Disney movie, to my knowledge.
What is also astonishing about Meg in the context of the other characters I’ve written about is that we see Meg progressively falling in love with Hercules. While a majority of the characters have instantly seen a guy and declared love for them, Meg slowly falls in love with him. And when it’s clear to the audience that she’s in love with Hercules, there’s then a big number about how she won’t admit that she’s in love with him, which is one of the best songs in a Disney film.
Additionally, rather than having to be rescued at the end of the film, Meg, like Belle, ends up saving the day. But what’s incredible with Meg is that she does save the day by sacrificing herself. (SPOILERS: She lives.) She starts off as a damsel-in-distress, but then becomes one who does the saving by the end of the film. Yes, she’s a pawn for Hades during most of the film, but Meg is one of the strongest female characters in any Disney film and a terrific role model for children.
Just let them know to not sell their souls to the lord of the underworld.