At the urging of his gargoyle pals, Quasimodo leaves Notre Dame tower against the wishes of his guardian, the evil Judge Claude Frollo. He ventures out to the Festival of Fools and finds his first true friend, a Romani woman named Esmeralda, who entrusts him with a secret. When the secret is revealed, Quasi soon finds himself fighting to save the people and city he loves.
The movie's neither hopeful in contrived ways, nor hopeless in different contrived ways. Somehow it manages to be wonderful
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By the time the dramatic fireworks start popping off, each one feels earned.
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I watched this for the first time today, hoping that I'd enjoy it even though I'd heard bad things about it, just like I did with Pocahontas. I was disappointed. Here's what I thought about what:Story: The plot was strange, and I was annoyed with the great amount of things that were left out from the original book. On the other hand, I was getting goosebumps and chills when Esmeralda was about to be burned. The battle was no joke; though there was no blood, it had fire and spears. It was captivating and exciting. With the incredible battle but how the plot had little connections to the book, I give the story 5/10 stars.Characters: Quasimodo and Esmeralda were great characters, and Frollo is one of the best and most wicked of Disney's villains. He had a cold voice and grand song, but it was sometimes hard to tell what he thought or whose side he was on. I didn't care for the rest of the characters. Again, there weren't connections with the book! Captain Phoebus was a good person, not sly and betraying as he was in the book. Esmeralda's mother and a poet that fell in love with Esmeralda were left out. There were talking gargoyles, which were new and unnecessary. The narrator was actually a character, a rather obnoxious one at that. With the missing and new characters, as well as how some changed, I give them 3/10 stars.Music and singing: Frollo's song, Hellfire, is honestly one of the best Disney villain songs ever. It was thrilling and had so much drama and even beauty to it. The French chorus in the background made it even better. "God Help the Outcasts" and "Out There" were good as well, but there was another song that the gargoyles sang that only made the story dwindle and was, again, completely unnecessary. 7/10 stars for the music and singing.Art and animation: Some of the poorest I've ever seen! The animated movie that came before this was Pocahontas, and it was gorgeous with all its colors and shadowing. This, on the other hand, was poor. Though there were amazing details, the colors were dull and shadowing sloppy. 1/10 stars for the art and animation!Humor: Pretty good, but there was very little. If your child is watching this, then they probably won't get the jokes, for with the little humor there was, it is more adult-like humor. 5/10 for humor.Acting and voices: The acting was well-done, but Esmeralda's voice was too high-pitched and obnoxious. Also, the narrator was annoying. 4/10 stars for acting and voices.So, in the end, though this has a few great songs and incredible action, the animation and story, as well as the alterations and disconnection with the book, ruined it. The average number of stars is 4.
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A lot of us cinephiles know that one thing that makes a great animated film is one that can satisfy all ages, but still have material that shows respect to its older audiences. *sigh* I don't get why some people don't understand that. Here we have The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a Disney animated adaptation of the classic novel by Victor Hugo about a hunchback in a bell tower, a gypsy girl, and an evil man. Here, the hunchback, Quasimodo has been living in the towers of Notre Dame for two decades and longs for contact with the rest of humanity. However, his master, Judge Claude Frollo, discourages him from doing so, convincing him that the rest of the world will be hateful towards him, and that he is the only good man who will help him, despite his sadistic behavior. But, Quasimodo does have friends in the form of the gypsy girl, Esmerelda, who sees past Quasi's exterior and shows him the kindness that others can give, and the three gargoyles Victor, Hugo, and Laverne. Now, what I appreciate about this film is that when it goes for the dark tone, it does it really well. I don't think I even need to go over the song, "Hellfire;" every Disney fan knows it. But, you'd never thought that in a Disney film you'd see things like attempted infant drowning, references to sacrilege, perverse moves on a young woman by an older man, or attempted murder of an innocent family by burning down its house. However, this leads to the main problem: the film is too afraid to stay with the dark tone for very long and every so often, throws in a cheap joke to make kids laugh, and then you have *sigh* the gargoyles. They are the weakest element of the film; even though they do have a couple of good scenes where they help Quasi, they also make cheap jokes and their presence jars terribly with the dark tone that's elsewhere. People have said that they aren't necessarily real, but a product of Quasi's imagination, and I think, with a simple re-edit, one could erase most of their scenes like their awful "A Guy Like You" musical number, and have them appear sporadically to enforce that idea. That's what the film needs: a re-edit that keeps the film more in line with the dark tone that it's trying to set up, and gets rid of many of the cheap jokes. However, there are still a lot of good factors here. Tom Hulce (Pinto from Animal House) makes Quasi very likable and one can believe that he is conflicted between obeying Frollo, and helping Esmerelda, as Frollo's lies have a strong hold over him. Demi Moore also adds some warmth to the voice of Esmerelda, and Frollo makes for a genuinely great villain. The animation is also glorious. Overall, I'd recommend this film, but you have to bear in mind that there is unavoidably going to be some unnecessary silliness. However, if I had to pick a film that tells a mature story and respects adult audiences that kids can watch too, I'd lean more towards Don Bluth's The Secret of NIMH.
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***CONTAINS SPOILERS***The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of Disney's darkest stories. There are traditional Disney elements to prevent it from being too dark, such as the comedy sidekicks and funny animals. It has a silly show number in the middle that is out of place. The traditional elements actually end up hurting the overall picture. The straight to video sequel goes even further with the traditional elements, making a very much weaker picture. They are a touch of comedy in a serious more adult picture.What sets this one apart from other Disney films is that the movie is more adult in its themes. The film deals with many heavy themes such as, religious fanaticism, sexual desire, racism, and social norms. The songs are mostly serious, not the normal sing-a-long type of Disney song. Hellfire is an amazing serious, dark Disney song. The film does not take place in a beautiful kingdom, but instead in a poverty stricken Paris. Our female lead is not a princess, but a commoner. Our hero is not handsome, and doesn't get the girl. Then there is our villain Frollo.Frollo, in my opinion is Disney's most sinister villain; he makes no jokes, nor is he silly. Frollo brings no comedy to the picture; he is not played as a fool or coward. Frollo is fearsome, and a character that seems very real. Voiced by the late great Tony Jay, Frollo embodies the idea of religious fanaticism. He is so blinded by his beliefs; he does not question any of his beliefs. Frollo is so determined to save his city he that he is willing to first destroy it, he will even attempt destroy Norte Dame. Frollo is beyond the foolish and silly Disney villains (Captian Hook/ King John/ even Cruella DeVille), he is in a class alone. He is a man of hatred and violence that should chill even the oldest viewer. The film is so well made it is sad it is not seen as up to the standards to its fellow Disney pictures of the time. The film is forgotten because it is ugly. Our hero is seen as grotesque, the city is dirty, and many of the scenes are darker in color. But really what makes this film ugly is it deals with the ugliness of humanity. We see the cruelty and violence of man. No other Disney picture deals with such adult themes and darkness. It is a great film that should be seen, don't turn away from the ugliness, but understand it. This is Disney's dark gem, but a gem all the same.
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Our main hero is Quasimodo, a supposedly hideous man who has been locked up in the castle by Frollo, whom we'll get to later. One of my problems with this movie is that Quasi is not nearly as hideous as he is portrayed. He's more of an ugly-cute. He's not attractive, especially compared to his costars, but 'the most hideous man in all of France' he is not. But my main problem is that this film professes a moral that it doesn't matter what you look like, yet what's Quasi's reward for being the hero. You and I both know that if he'd been more handsome, he would have gotten the girl (honestly a sexist concept in of itself, but that's for another day), the beautiful Esmeralda. But he doesn't. He merely gets to be accepted by the public and treated like a normal human being. What kind of a reward is that? Esmeralda ends up with the traditional blond, handsome prince, Phoebus, who is so forgettable I had to look up his name before I wrote this review. That's garbage. For all his hardships, Quasi basically gets the 'reward' of being the third wheel.The one bright spot among our cast of heroes is Esmeralda. Besides having a gorgeous name, she's entertaining, energetic, flirty, and cunning. I'm not really sure if she's that different from the other Disney Princesses (yes, I know she's not actually a princess, but Disney plays it fast and loose with the branding; if this movie had been more successful, you bet she would have been there), but she definitely feels different. She feels more experienced, more mature.Honestly, I wouldn't have minded if they took out the Hunchback and her prince and instead made it about her and Frollo, It really wouldn't have been an adaptation of the Hunchback of Notre Dame anymore, but it would have been a more interesting, better-told story than the one we ended up getting.Frollo himself is far and away the highlight of the movie. He's the kind of Disney villain that's scary when you're a kid and downright disturbing when you're an adult. Before I rewatched this one, I thought Scar was far and away the best Disney villain ever. Now I'm not so sure. If you asked me right now, I'd give the edge to Frollo. He may not have killed Mufasa, but he is wondrously, gloriously, terrifyingly insane.In fact, at the moment of writing, I'd even go so far as to call him arguably the best straight-up villain in film. That voice, that outfit, that authoritative, slimy charisma; it's impossible to look away when he's on screen. He steals every scene. He, plus the many, many wonderful shots in the film (including one in which the pattern on the main stained glass window of the Notre Dame is projected onto the ground on which Esmeralda is standing) are what elevate this film above its contemporaries and make it a truly great film and underrated in the massive Disney animated canon. I hope there comes a day when this film is fully able to come out from the shadow of The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast and really, truly stand on its own.For the first act or so, Frollo is just a captivating, impressive villain. Then comes Hellfire. Other than being the best song in the film and one of the best songs in the entire Disney renaissance, other than being partnered with a beautiful visual sequence that, like real destructive fire, is as painful as it is unignorable, it completely reveals Frollo's state of mind. This is his one moment of weakness, and it disgusts him. And what does a man like Frollo do when confronted with his weakness? He wants to destroy it and bring back the stony façade he regularly projects, for that is all a withered, black soul like himself has left.What is his weakness? He wants Esmeralda. And I don't mean he wants her to lock up in his castle or tie up on the train tracks. He wants her in a lustful, sexual, carnal sense. Of course, the film doesn't use those words, but it's as clear as the water on a bright sunny day. To see emotions like this expressed with the lush Disney bigness is as surreal as it is terrifying. Yet there's a certain current of reality to all this that immerses you in his crazy, twisted world.He refuses to accept this thoughts, and thus they go more twisted and perverted. He seeks to snuff them out and so wants to kill her or burn the city down trying. And that's exactly what he does. He burns half of Paris to the ground. We see him torch an individual home with his own hands. He tries to chop off Phoebus' head. And it's fairly clear that if he got Esmeralda alone to do whatever he wanted with her, he'd kill her, but not before raping her first.Yes, this is a G-rated kid's movie.And because of the nature of animation and Disney animation in particular to shape the environments around the emotions of the characters, you feel every bit of what I just described. It's well-done, evocative, and kind of unbelievable.While a mess of a film in some parts, the parts that are good are so good they more than make up for it. This is one of the great Disney Renaissance movies, and I hope Disney gets around to the live-action adaptation. It's truly unique.