Whether you love or hate Disney’s Hercules, I think you can agree that Hades is awesome. He’s hilarious, his voice acting (courtesy of James Wood) is fantastic, and he is an effective antagonist. But is he really pure evil?
Disney is well-known for making villains who relish being evil and don’t have any visible redeeming qualities or clear motives as to WHY they’re evil. This isn’t entirely the case for Hades.
When we first see Hades, the Olympians are shown to immediately dislike him, though it’s never entirely clear WHY they don’t like him. Did he try to take over Mount Olympus before? Did he do something horrible? It’s never revealed, and judging by how Zeus is at first eager that Hades has shown up, that’s probably not the case. Hades isn’t a nice person, but it’s odd how only Zeus seems to be fond of him (probably because they’re brothers).
Zeus: “How are things in the Underworld?”
Hades: “…a little dark, a little gloomy, and always…full of dead people”.
Doesn’t sound like an ideal place to call home. And then, when Zeus encourages Hades to join the celebration, Hades replies, “But unlike you gods, lounging about up here, I regrettably have a full time gig that you by the way so charitably bestowed on me, Zeus. So, I can’t.”
It’s a little hypocritical for Zeus to be pointed out that HE assigned Hades a bad job position and then makes it look like HADES is in the wrong for ‘working himself to death’.
Within the first ten minutes or so of the movie, it becomes well-established WHY Hades is the way he is. He’s not JUST an asshole; he’s bitter from so many years (likely hundreds or even thousands) of being assigned to a job he hates, away from all the glory and fun, and being disliked on principle. So his callousness towards his own kin and bad temper and general asshole-ry suddenly makes a lot of sense. It doesn’t EXCUSE his bad deeds, but they become a lot more understandable when you realize he’s doing it out of frustration than just pleasure.
But why was he given such a job anyway? I have a theory.
You see, throughout the movie, Hades is shown to be EXTREMELY powerful; he can conjure up anything he wants, controls and assembles monsters, frees the Titans, can teleport himself and others, has immense control of fire and smoke, and probably has a lot of other tricks up his sleeves. All Zeus is shown to do is rule others and control lightning bolts. So if he’s less powerful, how does he make sure HE gets all the power? By putting his rival in his place. By cosigning Hades to the Underworld, Zeus can secure his regime. And it’s not like Zeus sees Hades as a potential tyrant that he has to control; again, he was perfectly fine letting Hades come to his son’s first birthday.
I don’t think it’s much of a coincidence that Hades is so damn likable in the movie and that, in the original myths, Hades wasn’t all that bad and ZEUS was the cause of most strife.
So yeah. I think the movie is less about some angry asshole wanting all the power just because; it’s about an angry asshole wanting all the power because of being mistreated for so long. He’s made to contrast Hercules, who has also been shunned but grew up to be good and pure despite all odds.
Am I saying that Hades is totally innocent? No. He made the choice to try to have an infant killed and put lots of people in danger just to get to Hercules. (Though I find it interesting that never once does Hades try to kill Hercules himself; even when Hercules is weakened, there’s nothing stopping Hades from just strangling him on the spot, but he never does…make what you will of that.) But I AM saying that all this could have been avoided if Hades was given a companion (beyond his bumbling minions and a woman who was coerced into being his servant). Someone who could genuinely help him out with his work so he had more freedom to move about and do things. Maybe someone to help liven up his living space. Someone who would appreciate him for who he is, but not take his shit. Someone who can rule the Underworld beside him. Someone like…Persephone, his wife from the original myths? Anything is possible…