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The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Disney Animates a Classic Tale

Jul 12, 2008
The Hunchback of Notre Dame was premiered on June 22, 1996. It marked the 34th animated film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation. Inspired by Victor Hugo's 1831 novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the film varies significantly from the source material. This variance ensured the film received a G rating, but defenders and fans of the movie point out the fact that the it does address some rather mature themes, including lust, infanticide, religious hypocrisy, prejudice, and social injustice. Curiously, this is the first animated Disney movie to use the word "damn," though it is used only in the spiritual sense.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame was the second Disney film directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, the directors of the wildly successful Beauty and the Beast. The duo was eager to make Victor Hugo's novel more fitting for children. This included making the film's heroes, Quasimodo, Esmeralda, and Phoebus, kinder than in the novel (Phoebus, in fact, was a villain in the novel), adding three anthropomorphic stone gargoyles in the form of sidekicks, and keeping Quasimodo and Esmeralda alive at the end.

The plot of the film centers on four main characters: the Gypsy dancer, Esmeralda; Claude Frollo, a brutal judge who lusts after her; Quasimodo, Notre Dame's kind, but deformed, bell ringer; and Phoebus, the chivalrous, if irreverent, military captain, who holds affections for her. Quasimodo's only friends are a trio of gargoyles that inhabit the bell tower. The filmmakers argue these gargoyles could only exist in Quasimodo's head, acting as "pieces of his identity." This supposition falls flat, however, when the viewer takes into account how Esmeralda's goat, Djali, briefly sees the gargoyle named Hugo come to life. Indeed, in the film's sequel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2, Madallaine, Quasimodo's love interest, can see the gargoyles.

The response to the film was generally favorable, though critics, such as Arnaud Laster, a leading Victor Hugo scholar, accused Disney of simplifying, editing, and bowledrizing the novel in many aspects, including the personalities of the characters. In his review, Laster wrote that the animators "don't have enough confidence in their own emotional feeling" and that the film "falls back on cliches."

Regardless, in its opening weekend, the film opened in second place at the box office, grossing $21 million. The film, sadly, experienced a decline in subsequent weeks, eventually grossing just over $100 million domestically and about $325 million worldwide. The Hunchback of Notre Dame failed to top its predecessors, like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, and Pocahontas, marking the end of the Disney renaissance launched by The Little Mermaid. The film only managed to garner one Academy Award nomination, for Best Original Score by Alan Menken. A direct-to-video sequel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2, was released in 2002.
About the Author
Steve Collins is an author and journalist based in Hollywood. A huge Disney fan, he uses the Disney Movie Club to complete his collection. Read his reviews of the movies he buys from Disney Movie Club
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