Movie #35 in the Disney Animated Marathon marks yet another misunderstood near masterpiece in the Disney canon!
Screenplay By: Tab Murphy & Will Finn
Directed By: Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise
Oh man, why did the mouse have to go for the politically correct ending? What The Hunchback Of Notre Dame needed was for Quasimodo to shove stupid ole Phoebus out of the way, grab Esmeralda by the arm and say, “Listen Chica, we’ve been singing this entire time about injustice and how we are all actually equal. Well, I saved your fine ass more times than I can count, so screw the blond buffoon, this is what you need to be getting on! Ya hear me?” Instead Quasimodo defers to the normal looking jock and it’s supposed to be a happy ending as he skulks to the side while the two pretty people make out. Pardon my French, but fuck that noise! Ugh, that moment pisses me off to no end, even if it is somewhat in line with the dark life will fuck you over tone of the entire film. Grow some brass ones Disney, you know and I know that you copped out with that ending and ruined what was otherwise shaping up to be one of your best efforts of all time. Do you hear me, of all TIME!!!
Okay, venting about the ending aside, what are we left with when it comes to The Hunchback Of Notre Dame? A pretty great movie, that is what we are left with. The Hunchback Of Notre Dame is neck and neck with Pocahontas for the most adult feature Disney has ever produced, but where I believe it may have the edge over Pocahontas is in the growth it allows in its characters. This may not be clear if you only focus on the non-musical portions of The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, because this is a film where the music is made very essential to the story, plot and characters. Quasimodo of course has to change and grow, but through song we learn a whole lot about Frollo, Esmeralda, Phoebus and even the three gargoyles. None of the songs are extremely catchy mind you, but seeing as how they are used as narrative devices I don’t believe they really need to be all that catchy. But, back to the adult nature of The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, this is a movie where we have adult themes such as self-doubt and fitting in, historical/religious concepts such as sanctuary, and we have near character deaths, brutal actions from characters, brazen comments about an entire ethnic group and so much more. The Hunchback Of Notre Dame does not hold back, until its ending that is, oh, that damn ending!!
At this point in time the mouse was making a clear move towards more CG enhanced animation and you can see that shift on display in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. Where The Hunchback Of Notre Dame succeeds compared to some later fare like Treasure Planet is that it melds traditional hand drawn animation and the new and hip computer animation into a visual delight. It feels like there is an actual camera at work in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. It sweeps in and out of tight spots, zooms here and there, and not once does the film suffer from a loss of detail or color. As far as animation goes I am hard pressed to name a better looking film in all of this marathon. And that’s without even getting into Esmeralda when she dances, hubba, hubba indeed…
For as dark as it is, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame is still a fun movie, with heroes and villains, and a sort of adventure that was easy to get into. I say sort of because The Hunchback Of Notre Dame doesn’t present a traditional adventure, rather it presents the search for a girl as a backdrop to the first steps into truly being alive of a young and mistreated man. This leaves the audience without the rousing adventures of Disney stories past to latch onto, but the more it becomes obvious that The Hunchback Of Notre Dame is about the journey of life, for Quasimodo, the less we look for the adventure. It is oodles of fun watching the world of Quasimodo, seeing how dark his world can get, how manipulative Frollo can be or how boisterous and lively the Gypsy’s that are persecuted throughout the film remain. The lesson to be learned is that you can have a dark animated picture that works for adult and child alike that is fun to boot
I had a much better time than I anticipated I would with The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. If you are avoiding watching this particular Disney film for any of the same reservations I had-subject matter, story, etc.- do me a favor and forget all about your hang-ups and give it a chance. For almost its entire running time The Hunchback Of Notre Dame is one hell of a motion picture, and hey, maybe the ending won’t bug you as much as it did me. All I know is that I can chalk up The Hunchback Of Notre Dame to another wonderful discovery because of this marathon and that makes me a happy man!