MOVIE REVIEW: “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is voiced by Tom Hulce (Amadeus, National Lampoon’s Animal House), Demi Moore (Ghost, G.I. Jane), Kevin Kline (Last Vegas, A Fish Called Wanda), Tony Jay (Time Bandits, Beauty and the Beast ), Jason Alexander (Seinfeld [TV series], Pretty Woman), Charles Kimbrough (Murphy Brown [TV series], The Wedding Planner), Mary Wickes (White Christmas, Sister Act), and Paul Kandel (Full Moon High, Law & Order [TV series]). It is directed by Gary Trousdale (Beauty and the Beast , Atlantis: The Lost Empire) and Kirk Wise (Bobbleheads: The Movie, Atlantis: The Lost Empire), with the screenplay being written by Tab Murphy (Brother Bear, Tarzan ), Irene Mecchi (The Lion King , Brave), Bob Tzudiker (Anastasia, 102 Dalmatians), Noni White (Newsies , The Legend of Tarzan [TV series]), and Jonathan Roberts (James and the Giant Peach, Jack Frost).
A deformed young man (Hulce) who lives in a bell tower must sacrifice his own safety to help a beautiful gypsie (Moore) when her people are being persecuted by the town’s ruthless leader.
I have hardly reviewed the Disney animated classics on my website, and I figured it time to rectify that, with 1996’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”; one of the few Disney Renaissance pictures I didn’t grow up on.
Before my mom told me that I saw this on VHS as a toddler, I long believed I had never seen “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” I might as well have not seen it, given how I knew nothing of what I was seeing when I popped the disc in. What unfolded before me was an endearing, beautiful story on acceptance and forgiveness, all told in a medieval setting with plenty of songs. Disney is operating in their prime (or re-invigorated prime), and it’s in watching a movie like this that makes me miss what the company once was.
One thing to champion “Hunchback” for is its grit. I was surprised to find that it dabbles a lot in the church (set in 1400s France), and the strict rules enforced by government in a blind way to ensure a community devoid of sin. A specific group, the gypsies, are targeted in this story, and it’s through the eyes of a deformed man, Quasimodo (Hule), that we peel back the layers of how a witch-like group is being misrepresented. To me, it’s one of Disney’s darkest and saddest tales; it doesn’t hold many punches, especially in its opening and songs. As you can tell, Quasimodo is not like the rest of us physically, and his deformity is highlighted by his master as a means to hide. This isn’t like “Tangled” where the mom says that the outside world is evil; Quasimodo’s master is telling him he is the problem that the world can’t handle. Man dude.
I loved the character of Quasimodo. He’s your unlikely hero who battles his own internal problems. Namely accepting himself and being selfless (a tough pill to swallow when there’s a beautiful woman like Esmeralda [Moore] to fall for). His journey is engaging and heartwarming, and I often enjoyed watching it unfold. The characters that surround him are also solid, with a strong villain role of Frollo (Jay) and a wonderful leading female of Esmeralda. There’s also talking gargoyles in this (because why not?), the best of which being voiced by Jason Alexander. Though this isn’t the most iconic group of people (or voice actors) from Disney’s vault, they make for an eclectic bunch who get the job done.
To me, one of the biggest tragedies facing Disney today is the loss of hand drawn, 2D animation. My gosh, this movie is gorgeous. The setting of the story coupled with the swooping landscape shots are incredible. Knowing that people drew this by hand makes it all the more fun, as the motions are fluid and the style is often captivating (I specifically loved the Cathedral setting and the music number of “Hellfire”). The music, composed by the legendary Alan Menken, is also great. Nothing I would really blast on repeat in the car like Phil Collins’ “Tarzan” soundtrack, but it works greatly for the story, and the voices work for the parts.
“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” isn’t the best of the Disney classic line-up (from what I grew up with). It’s not as iconic, nor does it stick with you as much. Despite this, it’s a wonderful picture, through and through. I love how dark it goes, while showing the light side of things all the more. The Christian undertones were also a plus, and I liked the world that was crafted around the tale. Especially when you look at what’s being released now, this is a reminder of the heights you can achieve with animated; something that will entertain the kids and surprise adults. For that, I give the thumbs up. If you’re a Joe Schmo like me and haven’t really seen the movie, I’d say you’re missing out. FINAL SCORE: 87%= Juicy Popcorn
Here is the trailer: