The Mighty Hercules
|The Mighty Hercules|
|Created by||Adventure Cartoon Productions|
|Voices of||Gerry Bascombe
|Country of origin||Canada, USA|
|No. of episodes||128|
|Running time||5 minutes (usually compiled into 30-minute omnibuses)|
|Original channel||first-run syndication|
|Original run||September 1, 1963 – May 1, 1966|
The Mighty Hercules is a low-budget animated series based loosely on the Greek mythological character of Heracles, under his Roman Mythology name, Hercules. It was created in 1962 and then debuted on TV in 1963 and ran until 1966 coinciding with the sword and sandal genre of films popular at the time. Each standalone episode runs approximately 5 minutes with opening and closing credits, and in syndication several such episodes are compiled to fill 30-minute timeslots (including commercials).
The cartoon features Hercules, the legendary hero, who dwells on Mount Olympus. When villains threaten the people of ancient Greece, often in the fictional kingdom of Caledon, Hercules comes to the rescue of the Kingdom or whom ever may be in trouble. When in serious danger, Hercules puts on his magic ring from which he gets his superpowers. Once wearing the ring and raising his fist, the ring is struck by flashes of lightning (referred to as the Thunder of Zeus in several episodes). Hercules is then endowed with super-strength, and goes forth for several brief episodes to do battle with nemeses such as Daedalus, an evil wizard who is the chief villain (sometimes accompanied by his pet cat Dydo); as well as others such as Wilhemine the Sea Witch (accompanied by her pet bird Elvira); and Murtis (aka The Mask of Vulcan), who was invulnerable due to his wearing of an iron helmet, itself known as the Mask of Vulcan.
Hercules' friends and allies are his main sidekick, Newton, the helpful boy centaur who has a bothersome habit of repeating himself every time he speaks; Helena, Hercules' girlfriend; Prince (later King) Dorian of Caledon; Tewt, a small satyr who "speaks" only by playing his panpipes; Timon, a young human from Caledon and Pegasus, Hercules' winged steed. Also featured atop Mount Olympus are Hercules' father Zeus and Dodonis with his crystal rock of seeing; both often warn Hercules of the troubles going on down below in and around the Kingdom of Caledon or deep in the Lernaean Forest.
In the original episode, Hercules beats his friend Theseus in a footrace and a wrestling match, and for his victory is granted any request by Zeus as a reward. Hercules wishes to go to Earth to fight evil and injustice, but Zeus reminds him that going to Earth would cause him to lose his godly powers and become a mortal. Zeus then creates a magic ring that allows Hercules to access his godly strength while on Earth. The rest of the cartoon involves Hercules meeting Helena and fighting a giant named Cacus and the giant's pet dragon. None of the other familiar characters make an appearance in this episode, and it features different character designs for Hercules (who in this one short has a yellow belt and wristbands, with a black H in block lettering on the belt; the ring is of similar design, large and yellow, with a black H in a giant sunburst) and Helena (who has a different hairstyle, a silver necklace, and more makeup than her later versions).
The show generally used real Greek myths for their inspiration, but used the influences oddly. Daedalus, the evil wizard who is Hercules' most frequent foe, is named for Daedalus, mythological artificer who wasn't a villain at all, and Cacus, the giant in the first episode, is based on the mythological monster Cacus. Other recurring creatures like the Nemean Lion, the Lernaean Hydra, the Erymanthian Boar, and the Stymphalian Birds were taken directly from Hercules' Twelve Labors, but most weren't presented as trials for him to overcome. (For example, Hercules defeats the Lion in one punch before Murtis gives it a Mask of Vulcan to help it, and the Boar is already bound by a silver chain, with Hercules stopping first Murtis and later Dedaelus from freeing it).
In addition to the ring, later episodes added new equipment for Hercules and his friends to use: a "moon stone" beam in his belt (and a matching belt that Newton frequently wore) that could be used to summon him from Mount Olympus, an invulnerable sword and shield (both with the same "H" symbol as his ring and belt), and a set of pipes to summon Pegasus, his winged steed. (Hercules was not paired with Pegasus in the original myths, but this concept of the two together was also included thirty years later in Disney's animated version of Hercules).
Episodes invariably ended with Hercules, having defeated the villain, racing towards Mount Olympus (usually with the villain in tow), shouting "Olympia!"
128 episodes of approximately 5 minutes each were produced. Adventure Cartoon Productions made the series in connection with Trans-Lux Television, the same people who later brought the anime series Speed Racer to U.S. audiences. Joe Oriolo was producer-director, and many of the animators were veterans of the New York animation scene, including Grim Natwick, Frank Endres, John Gentilella, George Germanetti, Reuben Grossman, and George Rufle.
The theme music is credited to Winston Sharples (as Win Sharples) who spent more than two decades at Paramount Pictures composing background music for the "Superman" and "Popeye" theatrical cartoons produced by the Fliescher brothers. However, the transformative "ring anthem" frequently used as Hercules slips on the ring given him by Zeus, along with several bridges of music used throughout episodes, are taken from the 1954 film The Black Shield of Falworth, the music credited to Joseph Gershenson but really composed by Hans Salter, Herman Stein and Frank Skinner, the long time in-house film composer for Universal Studios.
The show also featured two different sets of voices for the characters (there was no gradual change - most of the early episodes had one set of voices, the rest have the second set). The most noticeably different voice was Newton: in the "older" voice style he sounds as if he has just hit puberty, with his voice constantly cracking, while the later episodes give him a high-pitched Mickey Mouse-like voice. The animation for the "putting on and charging up the ring" sequence also subtly changed with the voices. For an example of the former style and voices, watch the episodes "The Minotaur" or "The Chair Of Forgetfulness"; for an example of the latter, watch "The Nemean Lion" or "The Chameleon Creature".
Hercules's voice actor was Jimmy Tapp. Daedalus' voice actor, depending on the episode, was Gerry Bascombe or Jack Mercer. Early episodes featured Jack Mercer voicing Newton and other incidental characters. The series also featured a memorable theme song sung by a relative unknown at the time, Johnny Nash.The voice actor for all the female voices was Helene Nickerson. The theme song was covered in 2009 by Canadian jazz musician John Stetch on his album TV Trio.
In 2005, the series was re-issued to television in a newly remastered version and was reformatted, and in the process, replacing Johnny Nash's familiar theme music with new title music by an unknown singer. The version airing as of 2012 on the Canadian network Teletoon Retro, however, uses the original Nash theme music.
- "TV Tunes swing on new CD". The Tucson Citizen, February 10, 2009.