The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
You can tell this was produced by directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise who forever left their imprint on cinema with Beauty and the Beast. There is an ugly, disfigured male protagonist in Quasimodo. There is once again a love triangle, except this time the good-looking Phoebus wins over the heart of beautiful gypsy girl, Esmeralda. The animation makes Notre Dame feel like its the Eiffel Tower of Paris, perfectly capturing the scope of Quasimodo’s world. Menken is still at his best, returning to do the soundtrack.
This is where the comparisons to Beauty and the Beast comes to a screeching halt.
The glowingly warm ensemble of household items have been replaced by Disney’s most distracting side characters, the thee gargoyles. Their song,” A Guy Like You,” is so cartoonish that it feels like its been pasted onto this feature from a sequel made by DisneyToon studios. The undercurrent of darkness first found in the Beast’s tragic story is now at full blast, undermining Quasimodo’s character and morphing him into a blatant sympathetic character who, despite being the title character, oftentimes sits second to more interesting characters like Frollo.
The movie takes after Follo, who is Disney’s most dastardly villain to date. This movie depicts society as cruel and mean-spirited, and actually, I think the movie is cruel and mean-spirited. Whereas Beauty and the Beast expertly weaved around mature topics such as bestiality, Stockholm syndrome, and alcoholism, The Hunchback of Notre Dame criticizes mob-mentality, religion, and sexual lust, leaving the bleak impression that everyone is as deformed as this movie.
Verdict: Properly Rated
Kevin’s Favorite Moment: Quasimodo duets with Frollo in “Out There”
See, I actually appreciate that the movie is so dark. Unlike Disney’s other serious-minded movie from the era, Pocahontas, Hunchback actually manages to feel emotionally intense rather than dull. The serious tone here lends the movie an air of horror and gravitas. I like the idea of a Gothic Disney movie.
I do think Quasimodo, ironically, ended up a bit shallow. He needed a bit more development to stand out. But, without question, the Gargoyles are easily the worst part of this movie. They’re like an escape hatch from the tension and drama, making sure the movie never builds too much momentum before we get a blast of wacky.
But, man, when this movie hits, it hits hard. The film’s direct confrontation of the innate good and evil in people could have gone wrong so many places, but it almost never does. The “God Help the Outcasts” sequence might be the most underrated moment in any Disney movie, and I still get chills listening to “Hellfire.” Such villainy. No movie defied Disney’s warm streak and fairy tale tropes better than this, and for that, I am infinitely glad it exists.
Dan’s Favorite Moment: The choral section of “God Help the Outcasts”
Final Grade: D (67%)—what the hell am I watching?
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