- “Will you forget the head-slicing thing!”
- ―Phil during Hercules's fight with the Hydra
The Hydra is a large, multi-headed serpent appearing in Disney's 1997 feature film, Hercules. In the film, the Hydra is the first monster Hades uses as a fixed contest to destroy Hercules. However, even though the Hydra grew more heads faster than he can cut them off, Hercules manages to defeat the monster, earning him fame and adoration from the citizens of Thebes.
A massive, dragon-like creature with dark purple scaly skin, the Hydra's snake-like body is rather bulky and it crawls using two forearms with four-fingered claws. It has a long, thin tail and each time one of its heads gets cut off, three more grow to replace it, making the monster hard to kill. However, if the Hydra is beheaded, green blood can be seen gushing out. Its number of heads can apparently grow exponentially up to at least 18 in Hercules, though in Kingdom Hearts II its maximum is seven and in the read-along story it was 30. All of the Hydra’s heads are identical to each other, each resembles a cross between a rattlesnake and a monkey, a large mouth filled with white fangs and long tongue, orange eyes with slit pupils, and spikes lining the top of their heads down the length of their long, serpentine necks.
Of all the foes that Hercules fights over the course of his adventures, perhaps none is more frightening than the Hydra, as even famed trainer of heroes Philoctetes runs away from it. The Hydra is an ominous creature, dangerous and deadly enough that everyone of the crowd of Thebans seems to fear her. Rather than running, Hercules bravely fights the Hydra with just his sword and his wits. Her first instinct upon seeing Hercules is to bare its teeth in a rattling shriek and stomped its feet as the monster began to advance towards him. Instead of lunging right at him, the Hydra was taking its time, as if it enjoyed observing the terror of the young hero before attacking relentlessly. When Hercules tries to hurl a boulder as a distraction for losing his sword, the Hydra laughs at the young hero's clumsy attempts at battle. After the Hydra swallows Hercules whole, the monster lets out a huge burp and then rolling her eyes as she lasciviously licks her slimy lips with a deeply satisfied expression. However, appearing insulted after a woman screams, the Hydra attempts to attack the crowd, obviously not being completely satisfied with its meal of just one human being. However, before the Hydra could do anything, Hercules cuts his way out by decapitation, covered in green slime, and stands next to the headless steaming carcass.
Though Hercules cut his way out from inside the Hydra, the monster grew more heads. Having enjoyed the taste of the hero so well that after it grew more heads, the Hydra's pursuit to have another taste of Hercules continued, thus fueling the Hydra's hunger even further. The multi-headed Hydra makes several attempts to eat Hercules again, but Hercules is able to escape their jaws until the enormous creature pinned him to a cliff with its clawed foot. With Hercules trapped, the Hydra once again licked its many chops and prepared for its final attack, gazing at his intended victim. Despite the odds against him, all thirty Hydra heads were shocked after Hercules used his strength to bury the monster under a mountain of rocks.
The Hydra is the first obstacle sent by Hades to kill Hercules, lying in wait behind the boulder of a cave. Lured to a canyon outside of Thebes, Hercules unknowingly releases the Hydra after rescuing two children (Pain and Panic in disguise) from under the boulder. The two thank Hercules before running off to Hades and leaving the hero to feel a false sense of accomplishment, oblivious to the unintended consequences that would come of his actions.
Moments later, Phil joins Hercules in the canyon, and they become aware of a hissing sound. The Hydra surprises them by emerging from the inside of the cave. Phil ran for cover while Hercules drew his sword in front of the beast, forcing the hero into combat. The people of Thebes watch in horror and Hades watches excitedly as the Hydra advances on Hercules. The Hydra lunges but the hero dodges the serpent and keeps her at bay, until the monster strikes and knocks him back. Realizing he lost his sword, Hercules tries hurling a boulder at the Hydra, only for the beast to crush it into stones with her teeth and laughs at the hero's clumsy attempts in battle. When the Hydra next strikes, Hercules grabs the monster's teeth, struggling as he is pushed back by the creature. He slams her head into the ground, giving him time to grab his sword. However, the Hydra lashes out with her tongue and catches Hercules by his ankle. She flips him into the air, unhinging her jaw on both sides as she opens her mouth, and swallows him whole. Satisfied, the Hydra lets out a loud burp and licks her fangs. The Hydra is about to attack the Thebans until a sick look spreads across her face. As the crowd watched in stunned silence, a bulge formed in the Hydra's neck, and while in the monster's throat, Hercules cuts his way out by decapitation with his sword from the inside-out. The huge head tears from the body and lands in the middle of the crowd. Standing next to the Hydra's headless steaming carcass, covered in green slime, the hero is again lured into a false sense of security before, as Hades expects to happen.
An eerie hiss wheezes from the Hydra's wound, as three separate writhing heads sprout from the wound, admiring each other before beginning the rematch. Knowing the Hydra gave him enough trouble with just one head, Hercules flees as the now three-headed monster chases him down around the canyon until Pegasus picks up Hercules just as he's about to be bitten. Together they soar into the sky as the hero fights back, to little avail. With each head Hercules slices off, three more grow in its place (to the point that they start sprouting four and even five heads at a time). Frantically, Hercules chops at the hideous monster, continuing until he is surrounded by a hissing swarm of heads. Hercules and Pegasus fly up to avoid a pair of heads (which crash into each other), when suddenly another head strikes Hercules, knocking him off Pegasus, and he falls into the living jungle of Hydra necks. The snarling heads gang up to attack Hercules, making several attempts to eat him again, but Hercules is able to escape their jaws until he is flung into the air, and is pinned a cliff with the sharp talons of the Hydra's foot. All of the monster's heads lick their slimy lips in anticipation, ready for the final attack, as they are about to finish the young hero off. As all heads lung at once, Hercules thought quickly and punches the cliff, which causes an avalanche of rocks to fall. The Hydra freezes as all of her heads look up in fear, then the Hydra is crushed and buried in a mountain of rocks, ultimately defeating her for good.
All that is seen of the Hydra after the rockslide is her claw (where Hercules was held). Everyone in the crowd, including Pegasus, Phil, Meg, and Hades thinks that Hercules had died with the beast; however, all a sudden the Hydra's claw starts moving. The crowd is afraid at first, thinking the beast is still alive. But once the claw opens, it is revealed that a bruised and battered Hercules survived, after which everyone starts shouting for Hercules as the light shines on the new hero.
During the song Zero to Hero, everyone is watching a play featuring Hercules bravely fighting the Hydra in battle. Unlike the actual battle, the play shows Hercules fighting the three-headed Hydra, with Phil behind him and not running away.
The Hydra only made minor appearance in the series. In the episode "Hercules and the Parent's Weekend" The Hydra appears as a baby during Echidna song "What's a Mother To Do?" with the rest of her monstrous children.
In "Hercules and the First Day of School", the Hydra head was seen in the museum.
In "Hercules and the Big Kiss", Hercules once swore upon his reputation as a hero, to help Cassandra against beasts, like invading Titans and zillion-headed Hydras, though expressed disappointment when it was only a vision of Cassandra kissing Icarus.
In "Hercules and the Spartan Experience", while looking at clouds with Icarus and Cassandra, Hercules pointed at a cloud that he thought looks like a Hydra being slain by a brave hero.
In "Hercules and the Long Nightmare", Phantasos creates a discomforting quilt to make everyone have bad or scary dreams and frame his brother, Morpheus. Hercules had a dream when his adult self visits Zeus and Hera on Mount Olympus, and a three-headed Hydra appeared. One Hydra head grabs Hercules by his cape, dangling him while the other two snapped at him. Phil had a dream until it was interrupted by witnessing Herc's dream, seeing Herc attacked by the Hydra but the hero couldn't fight back because he dropped his sword. When talking of the scary dream, Phil pointed out it was he skipped sword practice to watch cheerleader tryouts at school. The next night, Hercules dreamed of his teenage self being grabbed by the Hydra. He screams for help before the Hydra swallowed him whole. The Hydra's three heads turn into faces of Phantasos afterwards. Hercules continues having the dream, saying he couldn't get out and was stuck in its pancreas, before waking up. When Morpheus asks for Hercules's help, Hercules mentioned how the Hydra was "as scary as they come". Both Hercules and Phil once again face Phantasos, who transforms into the Hydra. Proclaiming he's no longer afraid and Phil's advice that it's just a dream, Hercules bravely tricks the monster, tying the Hydra's necks, then he grabs the tail, spins it around, and throws the monster into a hole before Phantasos turns into Typhon, the father of all monsters. After stopping Phantasos, Hercules told Morpheus that because of the dreams, he wouldn't be afraid if he ever faced a real Hydra, that tackling it in his dreams made it less frightening.
The Hydra appears briefly in the Philoctetes' Hero-Training Program advertisement at the end of the episode "Salute To Sports". It had three heads and was facing Donald Duck in the canyon outside of Thebes.
The Hydra is mentioned by Zeus when viewing the Hall of Trophies. Zeus describes a different fight that Hercules had against the Hydra, instead saying that it had nine heads to begin with, with Herc searing its heads off so that they wouldn't regrow. This description is identical to the original myth where Hercules and his nephew Iolaus worked together to slay the Hydra, by having Hercules chop off a head and Iolaus cauterize the neck before it could regrow two more. One of its heads appears in statue form.
Hades sent the Hydra to destroy the Olympus Coliseum and kill Hercules. Hercules had to fight it in the Coliseum and believed he had knock it out. However, it was in fact playing dead and started to destroy the Coliseum. Sora then fought it with his friends and beheaded it until it could no longer grow heads. However, the aftermath of the battle was rather unfavorable—the Coliseum was destroyed and Hercules lost his hero's glow, making him later fall prey to the plans of Hades.
Despite not having too many live appearances, the Hydra has appeared in several spots, such as the Disney theme parks along with other characters from Disney's Hercules at Disney MGM Studios.
Behind the scenes
- Gerald Scarfe designed the Hydra for the 1997 film. Scarfe provided preliminary drawings to give the mythical beast its requisite fangs and serpentine necks before work was transferred over to the computer animation team headed by Roger Gould. On the Hydra's design, Gould said it was a snake with a head that is a mixed of rattlesnake and monkey. The Hydra was sculpted into a clay model where the dimensions were digitized into the computers as a wire-frame model by which the monster was animated.
- Early into production, the filmmakers decided the Hydra would ultimately have thirty heads by which the animators created one master head, and the computer could multiply the heads to their desired scale.
- The CGI animators spent about roughly 6 to 14 hours to render a frame of the Hydra depending on how many heads it had.
- Overall, thirteen animators and technical directors spent nearly a year-and-a-half creating the film's four-minute battle sequence.
- When the Hydra bit the boulder in half, its laugh was the grunting of a hippopotamus.
- The Hydra is based on the Lernaean Hydra, a serpent-like water monster of Greek mythology. It originally had nine heads that would replace each other in the same manner as the Hydra in Hercules, and was killed by Hercules as the second part of his Twelve Labors after The Nemean Lion.
- When the Hydra was seen as a baby being fed by Echidna, it already has three heads even though it started with only one.
- As stated in the myth, Hercules slew the Hydra by slicing off its heads, then using a torch to cauterize the stumps left.
- The Hydra is rendered in CGI, unlike the rest of the movie which is in hand-drawn animation. This was done as it would have been incredibly difficult to draw each head individually.
- The boulder that Hercules threw at the Hydra was shaped like a blaster.
- The Hydra is a rare instance of blood and gore shown onscreen in a Disney movie, as it visibly bleeds green blood after its heads are cut off.
- According to the Disney Read-Along story, junior novelization, and art book of Hercules, the Hydra grew a total of 30 heads. They also identified the Hydra with the terms "she" and "her", as a female creature.
- However, the math shows if Hercules removed 1 head and 3 more were added up to 14 times, the closest result would be 29. The heads cannot be an even number.
- In the film's junior novelization, after Hercules fell into the swarm of Hydra heads, one head wrapped her neck around Hercules, squeezing him like a boa constrictor. Four hissing heads dived for Hercules before he slipped down in the coil at the last second. It's unknown if this was an actual scene or something written for the book.
- In Once Upon a Time, the Hydra does not appear. However, when Hercules tells his twelve labors to a teenage Snow-White, one of his medals represent the creature.