Review: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Hunchback of Notre Dame | Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise, 1996

Of all the Disney movies that came out during the 90s, The Hunchback of Notre Dame was my second favorite (behind The Lion King, of course). I don’t know what it was, but there was something about it that made me love it so much that I kept watching it on a loop. The last time I saw it was, probably, about 10 years ago, and lately I have been wanting to rewatch it. I finally did, and well, let’s just say that I saw a completely different movie.

Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, the movie opens with a scene where judge Frollo (Tony Jay) is chasing a bunch of Gypsies. She ends up killing one of them and she had a deformed baby. He was going to kill him, but a priest stopped him and told him that he had to raise him otherwise he would go to hell. So, time passes and the boy named Quasimodo (Tom Hulce) is the bell ringer of Notre Dame. He never goes out, but on this particular day, the Festival of Fools is going on, and he wants to go out. So he does, against the wishes of Frollo. Things happen and he catches the eye of the crowd, and he ends up being saved by Esmeralda (Demi Moore). In that same place she stands up against Frollo, which makes him go mad, and so now she is an outlaw and it is up to Quasimodo to save her and Paris.

As a child, that is the story that I saw, but now I see that there is much more than that, and it is the ambition of the movie that ultimately did not leave me satisfied this time around. It tries to take on the whole “you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover” theme through the eye of religious intolerance, and that was just way too much. Now, I’m not saying that it had to be dumbed down, but the rest of the movie doesn’t really fit with the religious theme. So, they either had to do away with some of the heavier stuff, or with the gargoyles and the more light subjects.

One other thing that bothered me was the love story. In a Disney movie the hero always end up with the girl, but why didn’t quasimodo end up with Esmeralda?! They are trying to tell us that we should like everyone, yet Esmeralda ends up with the pretty boy who is barely in the movie! COME ON!

Also, I didn’t like the animation that much. It tries to use the same 2D, CGI combination that was used to great effect in some of the earlier Disney features, but here it is overused, therefore it seems more aged. And the voice performances were not that great. Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, and Kevin Kline just sort of read their lines, but there is no passion behind their work. Only Tony Jay does a great job

With that said, there are still plenty of things that carry the movie and made me enjoy it. One of those is the orchestra score. The songs are weak and obvious, but the score is fantastic. When it plays in the beginning I got chills. However, the “Hellfire” song is rather dark and amazing. I’m surprised that song was put in a Disney movie. That leads me to Frollo, the villain. He is easily one of the best Disney villains. Sure, he doesn’t want to kill babies because he wasn’t invited to a party, or a young girl because he wants to be the fairest of them all. But he is a religious hypocrite, and that makes him scarier than all.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is more problematic than I remember it to be, however it is still good entertainment

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