An undeservedly overlooked Disney film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame may be one of Disney’s darkest, but its also one of my favourites.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) is Disney animated family drama directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. It stars Tom Hulce as the titular hunchback, who lives alone isolated in the bell tower under the watchful control of his master, Judge Frollo (Tony Jay). But after he leaves his home and meets a beautiful gypsy woman called Esmeralda (Demi Moore), he must decide between his loyalties to his surrogate father or to the persecuted gypsies of Paris.
Based off the book, this is an incredibly mature film for Disney. It touches on lust, sin, the law and contains some pretty extreme imagery and scenes. Which is awesome. It feels targeted more so at adults than usual, while still keeping the kids interested with the songs and bright colours. That being said, it does fall victim to several key Disney tropes which makes a few important moments at the end feel very predictable and safe. But overall, this still feels like a relatively original Disney movie, and a ground-breaking one at that.
The movie also possesses an incredible sense of grandeur and scope. Everything from the architecture to the scale to the music gives Hunchback an incredibly epic feel. And it is stunning. Particularly the detail on the titular cathedral is gorgeous and almost worth the price of admission alone.
And the characters! Tom Hulce, while his singing voice isn’t strong, makes up for it in an incredibly earnest and energetic performance that imbues Quasimodo with an endearing sense of likeability and panache. Equally good is the villain Judge Frollo. Damn, this guy has got to be one of the most well written and complex villains ever devised by Disney. He’s understandable yet malicious, and is far from being evil for the sake of evil – his motivations are clear, understandable and yet surprisingly complicated for a Disney film. He’s awesome. The rest of the cast do a fine job too, but the stars are undoubtedly the protagonists and antagonists.
My biggest issue with the film however sits with the comic relief, the Gargoyles. Simply put, they’re just not funny, or particularly well written. I understand the need to have them in the film, but they sorely needed either a cutting down their screen time or better material. They just chew up crucial screen time without really adding anything, and its really annoying.
But aside from the Gargoyles, this is an incredibly grand and mature Disney film that I don’t believe has received all the praise it deserves. Its epic, dark, well written and should be regarded on the same level as Aladdin. Its exceptional.
General Audiences: Must-see
Film Buffs: Highly Recommended