Disney Makes Big ‘Percy Jackson’ Change for New Streaming Series

in Disney

Percy looks up at statue of Perseus and Medusa in 'Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief'

Credit: Disney

Disney’s new adaptation of Percy Jackson and the Olympians has just diverted from its source material for the sake of one of its most famous villains, Medusa.

Fresh off the flop that was Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (2010), author Rick Riordan is making a second stab at a live-action adaptation of his renowned young adult’s series. This time around, it’s for Disney+ and Riordan himself is at the helm – which has led to a much more faithful retelling of the tale.

Walker Scobell as Percy Jackson in new Disney+ series
Credit: Disney+

However, it’s also given Riordan a chance to reinterpret some things he wrote the first time around. One of the latest changes from the original book relates to Medusa, the villainous gorgon encountered by Percy (Walker Scobell), Annabeth (Leah Jeffries), and Grover (Aryan Simhadri) while on a quest to recover Zeus’ Lightning Bolt.

The original tale of Medusa in ‘Percy Jackson’

In Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Riordan very much writes Medusa as a black-and-white antagonist. After disguising herself as “Aunty Em” at a garden center, she tries to turn the three heroes to stone, only to be outwitted and beheaded.

Uma Thurman as Medusa in 'Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief'
Credit: 20th Century Fox

The 2010 adaptation was very similar. Portrayed by Uma Thurman, Medusa is a cold-hearted villain who tries to kill Percy, Annabeth, and Grover in a garden center filled with statues of her past victims. Eventually outwitted with the aid of an iPhone, the only real mention of her backstory is when she hisses “I used to date your daddy” at Percy.

But in the original Greek mythology, Medusa’s background is much darker. She is born a human and devotes herself to the goddess Athena, which involves pledging a life of celibacy. Medusa later engages in a sexual relationship with Poseidon – one that many versions of the myth portray as non-consensual – which causes Athena to take her beauty and turn her into a gorgon who can petrify her victims with a single glance.

Disney’s version of Medusa

In Disney’s new adaptation of Percy Jackson, Medusa’s tale sticks truer to its ancient origins. The three heroes recognize her as Medusa instantly, but decide to risk taking refuge with her as they’re currently trying to evade the Fury Alecto (Megan Mullally).

Leah Sava Jeffries, Aryan Simhadri, and Walker Scobell looking quizzical in Percy Jackson and the Olympians
Credit: Disney+

Medusa – who’s portrayed by Jessica Parker Kennedy this time around – tells Annabeth how devoted she was to the latter’s mother, Athena, in her youth. “She never answered,” she says. “Not even an omen to suggest she appreciated my love.”

This devotion was interrupted by Poseidon, who, Medusa tells Percy, claimed he loved her. “I felt as though he saw me in a way I had never felt seen before,” Medusa explains. “But then Athena declared that I had embarrassed her and I needed to be punished. Not him. Me. She decided that I would never be seen again by anyone who would live to tell the tale.”

Why did Disney change Medusa’s story?

The show’s co-creator Jon Steinberg spoke to Variety about the changes, explaining that they wanted to touch on Medusa’s tragic tale while keeping it age-appropriate.

Medusa covered with a veil
Credit: Disney

“If you know what she’s talking about, you know what she’s talking about,” Steinberg said, claiming writer Daphne Olive steered the storyline. “If you’re too young to be in that conversation, it won’t bother you. You’re just in a scene about this woman who seems complicated. And everybody’s got an opinion about what went down. There’s no version that is the version. If Athena and Poseidon were in that room, you’d get three different versions of that story.”

Kennedy herself also commented on the changes. “I chose to play that she was a victim of rape and total abandonment, not understanding why Athena would turn on her,” she said. “She does all of these really awful things, and becomes a terrible person, but I wanted her to feel almost frighteningly calm and kind. I didn’t want her to have a scary voice. I wanted it to feel gentle, but I also wanted to leave a layer of how we know shit’s gonna go bad.”

Medusa covered in a veil in 'Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief'
Credit: Disney

The show previously hinted at a more sensitive take on Medusa’s character in its opening episode. A flashback shows Percy’s mother, Sally Jackson (Virginia Kull) taking him to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art where he sees Antonio Canova’s statue of Perseus (Percy’s namesake who also decapitates Medusa in the original myth) holding Medusa’s severed head.

“Not everyone who looks like a hero is a hero, and not everyone who looks like a monster is a monster,” she explains.

Perseus statue holding Medusa's head in 'Percy Jackson and the Olympians'
Credit: Disney

The show’s take on Medusa isn’t done quite yet. According to Steinberg, there’s a “third act to that subplot of Medusa and Poseidon and Sally” that viewers can expect to see in its penultimate episode, episode seven. “[It’s] a really powerful flashback scene where you see Sally and Poseidon together.”

Percy Jackson and the Olympians has been a rousing success for Disney+ so far. Variety confirmed that the series reached 13.3 million viewers with its first episode, making it the number one Disney Branded Television premiere of all time. Episodes are released every Tuesday on Disney+ until January 30, 2024.

What are your thoughts on Disney’s adaptation of Percy Jackson? Let us know in the comments!

in Disney

Comments Off on Disney Makes Big ‘Percy Jackson’ Change for New Streaming Series