For the first time ever as of March 12th, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is in a Blu-ray (TM)/DVD Combo Pack! Bundled with The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, the animation has never looked better.
I have to admit, when The Hunchback of Notre Dame came out, it wasn't my favorite of the Disney films at the time. Following on the heels of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King, I think it just had such big shoes to fill for that time period, and the story is darker than the others.
Now standing on it's own, The Hunchback of Notre Dame feels like a big stage musical that may appeal more to adults than very young children. Thomas Hulce (the voice of Quasimodo) brings not only a voice to his character, but when he sings "Out There", the emotions of the song are palpable.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is loosely based on the story by Victor Hugo. Trying to protect Quasimodo, his gypsy mom is killed by Judge Claude Frollo (Tony Jay), who would have also ended the life of the baby Quasimodo, "sending him back to Hell where he belongs" if not stopped by the Archdeacon. Frollo is forced to bring up the deformed Quasimodo, but already has plans to use him.
Years pass, and we learn that Quasimodo is the bell ringer at Notre Dame. Another difference between 1996 and now is that I'd never been to Paris at that time, and now I've visited Notre Dame on many occasions. It's always interesting to see a beautiful landmark that I've visited immortalized on film. And somehow, after 20 or so years have passed, Quasimodo is a gentle soul, unlike the evil Frollo who brought him up.
What Quasimodo wants more than anything, is to be among other people, and accepted for who he is. Frollo has fought against that vehemently.
Quasimodo is egged on by the gargoyles (I think the film does better when the gargoyles are not part of it) to be part of the Feast of Fools. He is at first embraced by the crowd – after initial hesitation – but turned into a fool by those who work for Frollo. Esmeralda (Demi Moore), a beautiful gypsy who Quasimodo had just met, is his only friend.
Quasimodo is sent back to the tower, and Frollo sets out to arrest Esmeralda. Captain Phoebus (Kevin Kline) may know that Frollo is cruel already, but he isn't able to tolerate injustice against Esmeralda, who he is falling for…as is Quasimodo, who later is asked by Esmeralda to help Phoebus.
Clopin the Puppeteer (Paul Kandel) is wonderful in his role, telling the story of Quasimodo. He also brings the film levity without being corny.
The story is good, the music is outstanding. From “The Bells of Notre Dame” to “Out There” to “Topsy Turvy”, “Heaven’s Light” and “God Help the Outcasts” and more…I could close my eyes and feel like I’m watching a tremendous Broadway show.
I'll add a short review of The Hunchback of Notre Dame II once I've viewed it.