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Disney’s film, Hercules, is filled with stereotypes and predetermined notions. Character portrayals and plot development reveal these stereotypes. The focal point will be on gender roles and body image to expose the tacit connotations presented throughout this film. Concealed stereotypes in Disney movies send young children unjust messages about women’s role, physical appearance, and heroism.
Disney has a very rich history of portraying female characters in their films as the stereotypical damsel in distress, and it is very evident in this movie. The Oxford Dictionary defines the phrase, ‘damsel in distress’, as “a young woman in trouble (with the implication that the woman needs to be rescued, as by a prince in a fairy tale).” The film confesses to supporting this idea when the trainer, Phil, bellows, “Sounds like your basic ‘DID’, damsel in distress” (Clements, 1997). Meg is the female protagonist and has the stereotypical depiction of a vulnerable young woman or in other words the damsel in distress.
Hercules, the superhero, saves Meg time and time again from the perils she is exposed to while being powerless. Hercules is awarded the heart of the girl just as any other superhero or dominant male character in Disney movies, which supports the idea of femininity in animated films equaling up to being rescued and marrying your rescuer (King et al., 2010). This overly rehearsed stereotype reinforces the impression of a passive and receptive female, one which does not display strength or ascendancy.
The depiction of womanhood in Hercules is archetypical and invalidate. Women characters are insubstantial and weak, having no effective role in the plot. Rodan et. al (2014) explained how one of the representations of women in media is that they are trivialized when they appear on television, such as a character similar to Meg. The closest noteworthy contribution that women get in the movie is when Meg is tied up and offered to Hercules as part of a bargain with Hades, the antagonist. Other than being held captive, Meg likes to spend her time admiring Hercules or exploiting him into some ploy that was planned by the enemy.
Meg is just a puppet with no type of substance or ambition. Meg’s persona supports the femininity portrayed by animations of female characters by them being very one dimensional and flat (King et al. 2010). She only serves the purpose of being a reward and a rationale for the hero’s actions and boundless expeditions. Other women characters in the film also failed to obtain a true purpose other than empowering a male character or being a mesmerized follower by his looks. Women are represented as hysteric, as they are often seen shrieking at the hero’s looks, or being effortlessly manipulated by flattery. For example, Hades was able to flatter the Fates, a group of sisters who can see the future, enough for them to tell him the future about his hostile takeover (Clements, 1997). A close analysis reveals that male portrayals are not treated too much better than their female counterparts despite them being the dominant figures in this film.
It seems that the principal standard in which masculine figures are evaluated in Hercules is by their muscular strength. The men lack the depth of emotion or intelligence but are sole agents of raw power. Disney projects a fixed type of hegemonic masculinity in this film, which was one of the early criticisms of the concept (Connell and Messerschmidt, 2005).
Although the real world hegemonic masculinity is subject to change, Hercules only embodies one form of masculinity. They do so by making the most masculine characters all have a large amount of muscular strength. The male characters’ valor is compensated with fame, power, and appreciation while their human aspect is mostly disregarded. Despite the fact that Hercules is in a relationship with Meg, the extent of his feelings is lessened to childish, immature mumbles or stereotypical spousal dances.
Meg’s portrayal in the film conforms to predetermined ideas and stereotypes that women face in movies. Her overly slim figure is very impractical. Meg also has a sexualized image and the movie mentions her “curves” multiple times. Hades made one reference where he makes curvy gestures of Meg’s body and tells her “Maybe I haven’t been throwing the right curves at him [Hercules],” mainly portraying her as an object of desire (Clements, 1997). Both Phil and Hercules are also seen lustfully checking Meg out on many different instances. The interaction of Meg between other characters represents how society always sexualize women or categorize solely based off how their body looks.
The most predominant male figures in the film, Hercules, and Zeus, exhibit enormous muscular physiques which barely represents a man’s natural body. The muscular physiques are affiliated with power and dominance; common characteristics found in Hercules and Zeus. This conception is evidently reflected in the development of Hercules to an adult; the point where he acquires his strong figure.
Despite Hercules’ extraordinary feats of strength when he was younger, his body only began to transform when he grew older and became popular. The evolution of Hercules is another stereotype associated with hegemonic masculinity that large muscles represent ‘manhood’. Hegemony is ambiguous and comes in all muscle shapes and sizes (Connell and Messerschmidt, 2005). A man does not have to have a ripped body to measure his masculinity.
The movie Hercules has an abundant number of stereotypes. If it is gender role issues where women are incapable weaklings at the mercy of gigantic men or body image issues where women are excessively thin and men unrealistically muscular, stereotypes can be found throughout Disney animated movies. By disclosing these stereotypes, audiences can become more sophisticated, by being able to watch films with full knowledge of their exhausting effects on culture and society.
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