Monday, January 04, 2016

My Review of The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1996)

Written by  Tab Murphy And Irene Mecchi And Bob Tzudiker And Noni White And Jonathan Roberts
Directed by Gary Trousdale And Kirk Wise

Clopin: "Clopin will tell you. It is a tale, a tale of a man, and a monster."

I have to admit that while Disney have adapted many fairytales and pieces of literatures, the adaptation of Victor Hugo's 1831 novel seemed like a strange choice even for them and while there are some glaringly obvious changes from the source material, this is another triumph for them as even though some of the darker aspects are omitted from this movie, it's still a tad darker than some of the other classics from the Disney.

Released in the late 1990s, this adaptation does cover the basics with cruel judge (not an archdeacon in this one), Claude Frollo (Tony Jay) looks after the deformed Quasimodo (Tom Hulce), keeping him trapped in the bell tower of Notre Dame as the bell ringer while holding onto Paris in a terrorising iron grip. It's a grip that soon becomes challenged both with a rebellious Captain Phoebus (Kevin Kline) and charming gypsy girl Esmeralda (Demi Moore) entering the fray.

Esmeralda is the character that pivots everything arguably more than Quasimodo does in this movie (and every other adaptation to if we're being honest). She's the object of affection for both Quasimodo and Phoebus and even Frollo, must to his horror harbours romantic feelings for her which he then attempt to quench by having her nearly killed in the movie.

More to the point, it's a movie very much like it's source material that's discussing prejudice, religious intolerance and acceptance in quite a vocal manner. It is heavy handed in parts? Maybe a little but it doesn't stop the messages from being important and effective nonetheless. Esmeralda and Quasimodo suffer from severe degrees of prejudices and Frollo is the embodiment of every intolerant fanatic known to man. He's also one of the greatest villains in any form of literature and his eventual comeuppance is suitably karmic as well.

However this is still undeniably a Disney movie and the love story between Esmeralda and Phoebus while sweet enough is a massive departure what really was their relationship in the source. In fact, Phoebus really is written and portray as the dashing hunk and of course, Quasimodo himself is given three all singing/mischief making gargoyles named Victor, Hugo and Laverne while Esmeralda's goat Djali also proved handy in a crisis too.

- Five writers to adapt Hugo's novel? Blimey, it's a lot, isn't it?
- Musical highlights are many but for me Frollo's "Hellfire" and "Someday" by All4One/Eternal are still the favourites for me.
- There's plans for a live action version of this movie in the works.
- Apparently this was the last Disney movie to use mildly bad language such as 'hell' or 'damn'. Now that was something I really didn't know.

This was a risky one to adapt and while there's a slightly bland sequel that exists, I actually do think that Disney provided a very interesting and of course timeless take on The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, retaining the book's spirit and intent, even with some very noticeable changes with certain characters and events.

Rating: 9 out of 10

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