The Hunchback of Notre Dame / The Hunchback of Notre Dame II Blu-ray Review
I confess that THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME would not have been on my short list if I had been invited to the pitch meeting for ideas on what Disney’s 34th animated film should showcase. I can picture it now: “Hey! Let’s draw a sad, disfigured man who has been stuck in a bell tower for decades by his mean ole’ master! Turn of the century Paris worked for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, it can work for this!”
When Quasimodo (Tom Hulce) was a just baby, his gypsy mother was killed by Minister of Justice Frollo (Tony Jay) on the steps of Notre Dame. Pushing down deep feelings of guilt, Frollo commands that a priest take charge of the “half formed” baby. Quasimodo is forced to live and work in the bell tower, never to show his face on the streets of Paris. Encouraged by a trio of lovable gargoyles (Victor, Hugo and Laverne), Quasimodo defies his master and is wrapped up in the topsy turvy world down below during the Festival of Fools. He meets gypsy Esmeralda (Demi Moore) and quickly falls in love with her spunky nature and willingness to see him not as a monster, but as an outcast like herself. A desire to live among the people, not above them, obviously causes Quasimodo to question Frollo’s reasoning for keeping him locked away for so many years.
Quasimodo is a soft-spoken guy with a gentle spirit. It’s sadly touching to see him encourage a young bird to take flight for the first time, encouraging it to soar and live a full life. I understand that a very big life lesson – it’s not what’s on the outside, but what’s on the inside that counts – has come to life on the screen for young viewers. And this is a good thing. But even as an adult, with a keen understanding of underlying themes, I was extremely bored with the storyline. I also thought that Frollo has to be one of the nastiest villains in Disney history. I thought that war hero Phoebus (Kevin Kline) had some of the best lines in the entire show, but unfortunately, Esmeralda’s story took president for the majority of the film.
With that said, the animation had to be some of the best work that came out of the Studios in the 90s. The cathedral was breathtaking and the color and energy of the Festival of Fools was infectious. I also enjoyed the music which was created by the great Alan Menken. “God Bless the Outcasts” needs to go down in Disney soundtrack history if you ask me. Only Disney could transform Victor Hugo’s classic tale of warped physicality and evil brutality into a beautifully animated feature film. Feel free to rent it if you’re ready to explain unnecessary house fires and random murders to the kiddos.
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME II
On the other hand, I would suggest you completely skip THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME II. It was mediocre at best. The general storyline is the exact same when it comes to teaching us that there’s more to Quasimodo than meets the eye. But this time, instead of the love interest choosing the hunky military blond, the girl actually chooses our hunchback hero.
Madellaine (Jennifer Love Hewitt) works for a mean guy in a traveling circus. She poses as a tight rope walker, but is actually a pick pocket. Her boss encourages her to befriend the man in the tower so she can steal a very large, jewel encrusted bell and then skip town. Naturally, that doesn’t happen. Because how in the world is a woman supposed to carry a huge bell out of Notre Dame Cathedral without anyone (or gargoyle) noticing? Quasimodo to the rescue! He saves the day and gets the girl. The end.
Not only was the animation sub-par, but you could tell the entire cast called this one in. Jennifer Love Hewitt sounded bored, which didn’t help contribute to any feelings of excitement on my end. My recommendation is to not waste your time watching even if this movie is ever on the Disney Channel.
Video: The animation is beautiful. The attention to detail was phenomenal.
Audio: I absolutely loved the music.
The Making of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (28:02): Jason Alexander hosts this bonus feature, which includes interviews with all the main voices. Interesting facts: this feature film was the first entirely produced out of Disney’s animation studio in Burbank, Phoebus was the first Disney hero to have facial hair and 100 Parisian artists contributed to the authenticity of Notre Dame.
A Guy Like You — Multi-Language Clip Reel (3:23): This song featured the gargoyles singing in the following languages: French, Portuguese, Mandarin, Italian, Hebrew, Flemish, Castilian, German, Finnish, Swedish, Slovak, Norwegian, Spanish, Hungarian, Danish,