The Mighty Hercules
|The Mighty Hercules|
|Created by||Adventure Cartoon Productions|
|Directed by||Joe Oriolo|
|Voices of||Gerry Bascombe
|Country of origin||Canada
|No. of episodes||128|
|Running time||5 minutes (usually compiled into 30-minute omnibuses)|
|Production company(s)||Adventure Cartoons For Television, Inc.|
|Original network||first-run syndication|
|Original release||September 1, 1963 – May 1, 1966|
The Mighty Hercules is a Canadian/American 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 five-and-a-half minutes, and in syndication were aired either as part of a block with other cartoons, or several episodes together to fill 30-minute timeslots (including commercials).
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The cartoon features Hercules, the legendary hero, who dwells on Mount Olympus. Villains threaten the people of ancient Greece, often in the fictional kingdom of Caledon, and Hercules comes to the rescue. When in serious danger, he 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), and Hercules is then endowed with super-strength. He does battle with nemeses such as Daedalus, an evil wizard who is the chief villain (sometimes accompanied by his pet cat Dydo). Other villains include Wilhemine the Sea Witch (accompanied by her pet bird Elvira) and Murtis, who was invulnerable due to wearing an iron helmet known as the Mask of Vulcan.
Hercules's friends and allies are:
- his main sidekick Newton, the helpful boy centaur who has a habit of repeating himself every time he speaks
- Helena, Hercules's girlfriend
- Prince (later King) Dorian of Caledon
- Tewt, a small satyr who vocalizes only by playing his syrinx
- Timon, a young human from Caledon
- Pegasus, Hercules's winged steed.
Also featured atop Mount Olympus are Hercules's 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.
The original episode has relatively lavish animation by John Gentilella. In it, Hercules beats his friend Theseus in a foot race 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 access to 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 and Helena.
The show generally used real Greek myths for their inspiration, but used the influences oddly. Daedalus is the evil wizard who is Hercules's most frequent foe, but Daedalus was a mythological artificer who wasn't a villain at all. Cacus is the giant in the first episode, based on the mythological monster Cacus. Other recurring creatures were taken directly from Hercules's Twelve Labors, such as the Nemean Lion, the Lernaean Hydra, the Erymanthian Boar, and the Stymphalian Birds; but most weren't presented as trials for him to overcome.
In addition to the ring, later episodes added new equipment for Hercules and his friends to use, such as a "moon stone" beam in his belt, and an invulnerable sword and shield. Episodes invariably ended with Hercules racing towards Mount Olympus and shouting "Olympia!" after defeating the villain.
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 Fleischer 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: his original voice 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, see the episodes "The Minotaur" or "The Chair of Forgetfulness"; for an example of the latter, see "The Nemean Lion" or "The Chameleon Creature". In "Double Trouble", the voices actually change right near the end of the episode, with Newton speaking a line in his original cracking voice, and the very next line in his second high-pitched voice. Hercules's final two lines of the short are likewise in his second voice.
Although there are two voices, Hercules's voice actor is always credited as Jimmy Tapp. Daedalus' voice actor, depending on the episode, is Jack Mercer or Gerry Bascombe. Early episodes feature Jack Mercer voicing Newton and other incidental characters. The series also features a theme song sung by singer Johnny Nash, the American reggae singer-songwriter best known for 1956's "A Very Special Love" and 1972's "I Can See Clearly Now". The theme's lyrics were written by Winston Sharples's son Winston Sharples, Jr. under the pseudonym "Win Singleton" (his first and middle names). The voice actress for all the female voices is 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 the familiar theme music with new title music by an unknown singer. The version airing as of 2015 on the Canadian network Teletoon Retro, however, uses the original Nash theme music.
On October 4, 2011, Classic Media (now DreamWorks Classics) brought the series to DVD for the first time with a single-disc selection entitled The Mighty Hercules, in Region 1. All 20 episodes are from season 1, the last one being episode 40.
- The Mighty Hercules at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on January 27, 2016.
- "TV Tunes swing on new CD". The Tucson Citizen, February 10, 2009.
- Lambert, David (July 13, 2011). "The Mighty Hercules - Single-Disc DVD Release Announced for the Classic '60s Cartoon". TVShowsOnDVD.com. Retrieved 2013-12-19.