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Movie Reviews

The Hunchback of Notre Dame



Reviewed By:  Luke Walkley

Released: 21st June 1996

Directed by: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise

Starring: Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Tony Jay

Certificate: U

It’s about time I got around to writing a review of a classic Disney film. Nearly everyone has seen a classic Disney animation and whether they want to admit it or not, they probably enjoyed it. They have conquered the family film markets for decades and with recent instalmentTangled they have taken a new approach on the age old animation.

So the real question was which to choose to review first. Disney has covered pretty much everything over the course of its 50 animations. From classic love stories Beauty and the Beast and Lady and the Tramp to creative re-imaginings of mythology in Hercules, even their own version of a Shakespeare play, Hamlet- cleverly reworked in perhaps Disney’s most famous feature of recent times, The Lion King. Instead I have opted for The Hunchback of Notredame. In truth it is not the most popular, especially among children, as it strays from the standard Disney formula somewhat. Its considerably darker content and animation, creates a new take on Disney’s classic animations. The Hunchback of Notredame (HOND) is a far more ‘adult’ film than has come to be expected from the world famous studio.

Based on the story by Victor Hugo, HOND follows Quasimodo, so named due to his deformity (Quasimodo meaning ‘half-formed’) Quasimodo is made to forever remain in the bell tower of Notredame Cathedral by his controlling ‘father’ Lord Frollo. One day Quasimodo decides he can no longer remain in the confines of his bell-tower and climbs down to join in the celebrations on the day of a gypsy festival in the square below. Here he attracts of the sympathy of beautiful gypsy Esmeralda, who in turn has attracted the attention of Captain Phoebus, a soldier summoned from the crusades to help Lord Frollo is his cleansing of Paris. Phoebus cannot carry out the orders laid down by Frollo and so along with Quasimodo he must protect Esmeralda and her people from Frollo’s and his men.

Despite straying far from the novel, it takes the main ideas and turns them on their head somewhat. However taking the characters personalities- the closest representation of the book, helps create Disney’s darkest creation and one of its most entertaining. Now, of course there are no talking gargoyles in Hugo’s novel, but Disney uses them to show how Quasimodo’s seclusion has caused him to turn to making friends out of inanimate objects. Frollo is his controlling father/owner and it is his persona which causes the biggest stir within the film. He harbours a lust for Exmerelda, despite his obsession with ridding the city of her people. It becomes strangely sexual on more than one occasion- sniffing her hair and during the film’s darkest song ‘Hellfire’ he sees Esmeralda dancing seductively in the flames he is singing into. The unusual level of sexuality which would probably be overlooked by younger viewers, certainly adds a new dimension to the film.

Any good Disney film needs a selection of memorable songs and HOND is more than happy to oblige, I mentioned the films darkest number, ‘Hellfire’ earlier but there are several fantastic songs throughout the film.  The soft ballad – ‘God Help the Outcasts’ sung by Esmeralda fits perfectly alongside the more upbeat ‘Topsy Turvy’. ‘Out There’ is a duet between Quasimodo and Frollo and is really the most accurate summary of the whole film- mixing Frollo’s dark singing and judgement of Quasimodo with Quasimodo’s dream of eventually being considered normal.

The animation is as per usual, stunning. Notre Dame Cathedral and its surroundings – the Seine River and the small city house’s of Paris are the perfect back drop for the events that unfold within the city.

It has one or two downsides, it is not long enough, but as a Disney animation we’re lucky if it exceeds 80 minutes. My other qualm is that I’m led to believe it misses some of the key facts from the novel, specifically changing the ending to that of a standard Disney happy ending, but then it IS a Disney film so what do you expect?

With some great voice acting from Demi Moore as Esmeralda and Kevin Kline as Phoebus, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is certainly one of the best Disney films ever made, as close to perfect as I can justify, it doesn’t really have a lot wrong with it as you can see by my attempt to point out its flaws.

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