1 The Mickey Mindset: Disney Animation Reviews #34: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Disney Animation Reviews #34: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Disney Movie Review: 34/52 - The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Ryan Dosier - Perhaps the most underrated Disney animated feature I’ve watched yet is The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996). Without a doubt it is one of the darkest features in Disney’s oeuvre, Hunchback succeeds in being haunting, hilarious, and heartfelt all at once. The film is gorgeous with its Parisian backgrounds and outstanding animation and it succeeds in adapting a powerful, dark story and not losing any of its emotional points.

One of the first things that stand out in The Hunchback of Notre Dame is its striking, distinct music. Alan Menken truly outdid himself with the score and soundtrack for this wonderful film. Stephen Schwartz, who proves himself extremely capable, wrote lyrics for the songs. After already tackling so many different musical styles, Menken perfected an operatic score for Hunchback. The opening song, “The Bells of Notre Dame,” is powerful and outstanding, immediately letting the audience know they’re in for a different sort of Disney fare.

Quasimodo’s song “Out There” is truly one of Menken’s many masterpieces and deserves to rank alongside any song from his previous Disney works. Tom Hulce gave Quasimodo his voice and his performance in this song is just breathtaking. Dynamic is one of many words I would use to describe the song and Hulce’s performance. Scwartz’s lyrics are phenomenal throughout the film, but they stand out most in “Out There.”

The other songs, such as “God Help the Outcasts” and “Heaven’s Light/Hellfire” tackle heavy, sometimes dark subjects that one wouldn’t normally find in a Disney feature. It is moments and songs like these that make Hunchback such a distinct film. “Hellfire” is the darkest of any Disney song and it is positively stunning. The animation during the song is unbelievably good and Frollo’s voice (Tony Jay) is magnificent.

All of the songs aren’t dark and heavy, thankfully. The songs “Topsy Turvy” and “A Guy Like You” help to make the film funny and charming to balance out its darker moments—something other dark Disney films (e.g., The Black Cauldron) failed at completely. Although these songs are book-ended by more serious moments, they don’t feel out of place since they are so wonderfully entertaining. 

Quasimodo is the film’s strongest character and he is simply excellent. His plight is real and emotional and can be felt by the audience. Quasimodo is put in some truly cruel, horrible situations and still is able to walk into the sun with his head held high by the end. Although he is mistreated by almost everyone, he still sees that the world is not evil. It is a resounding, impressive message that really connects. Quasimodo is a truly lovely character and one of the great Disney protagonists.

The other characters are all really well done also. Frollo, the villain, is one of the most evil characters Disney has ever created. His verbal abuse of Quasimodo and sexual abuse of Esmerelda make him the slimiest, most hateful Disney villain, in my eyes. Esmerelda is very modern and a fun, strong character. She is one of the better female characters in a Disney movie. Phoebas is also enjoyable and quite funny. He gets so many sarcastic asides and sassy dialogue. The Gargoyles are also entertaining, though somewhat crude when compared to the rest of the film.

Though the love story between Esmerelda and Phoebas feels a little forced and the payoff a little weak, The Hunchback of Notre Dame still delivers one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking climaxes in a Disney film. It is completely riveting to watch all of Paris turn against Frollo and his men and fight for justice. When Quasimodo has heroic realizations, you want to stand up and cheer. When he is lifted onto the shoulders of the people of Paris, you actually might stand up and cheer.

With excellent music, fantastic animation, strong storytelling, and wonderful characters, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of my favorite Disney animated features. No, it doesn’t work as well as Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King, but it is still outstanding. As a Disney film, it is more adult-oriented and mature than ever before. Yet somehow it all works as an entertaining, engrossing, exciting movie-watching experience. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a magnificent treat in Disney’s second golden age.

4/5 Goofy Gargoyles

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