Anthony's Film Review

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

This Disney animated feature is not bad, though quite dark most of the way...

Walt Disney Pictures really does has a reputation for making quality animated films based on old stories. There are plenty of examples of this. Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid is one. The Arabian Nights legend of Aladdin is another. Then there's the timeless stories of Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland. As you can see, many of these stories are examples of children's fairy tales or at least stories that are appropriate for the whole family. Now what would happen if Disney were to attempt to adapt a more adult story in a way that would suit everyone in the audience?

Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame is quite notable for this reason. This isn't a children's story. Rather, it's a novel that involves themes such as persecution, all taking place in France. Unless you replace the dark themes with lighter but entirely different themes, it's not easy to make a kid-friendly animated movie based on a story that isn't for kids. This is exactly what went on in my mind as I was watching the Disney animated version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The movie begins with a rather frightening scene. Judge Frollo threatens to drop a woman's ugly baby into a well, actually holding the child above the water. But he doesn't kill the child. Instead, he raises it, keeping him imprisoned in a bell tower. This individual, named Quasimodo, longs to be out in the world, especially when an annual festival is around the corner. But Frollo is unforgiving and not willing to let one person in society look at Quasimodo.

There are two other characters who are important here. One is a gypsy dancer named Esmerelda. The other is a guard named Phoebus, who is attracted to Esmerelda. However, Frollo also has such feelings. In fact, there is an intense conflict, because he is in a position of religious authority, yet he lusts after Esmerelda. There is a sequence that portrays these feelings, and it's another scene that reminds us how dark this movie is.

I'll leave the plot summary at that and move onto Disney's attempt to appeal to kids. They did try, but barely succeeded. As trademark Disney sidekicks, the movie includes three gargoyles, two of which are named Victor and Hugo after the author. I didn't mind their presence, but they didn't really counter the movie's dark feel. Even in the dark action scene in the climax, the humor of the gargoyles had no effect on the suspense.

My bottom-line opinion is that this movie is pretty good with an overall tone that really stands out. Usually, I don't discuss age-appropriate content since it's really up to each individual parent to decide, but I cannot help but make an exception here. Don't be fooled by the lively poster for this movie or the MPAA rating of G (General Audiences - All Ages Admitted) in the United States. Otherwise, you might find Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame to be an enjoyable film.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about The Hunchback of Notre Dame, visit the Internet Movie Database.


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