THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME is a carefully constructed show with
stunning visuals. The sets are crafted with a wide range from
surrealistic crimson cast skies to a skyscraper looking cathedral that
is so real that you will feel like you must be wearing 3D glasses.
Disney takes a lot of risks in adapting this controversial Victor Hugo
novel to the screen. It manages not to offend anyone, even the church
which most movies are happy to ridicule ad nauseam.
Although I like the film and recommend it, I will admit upfront
that I was disappointed. Based on the hype, I thought it would be much
better than last year's POCAHONTAS, but I found them about equal.
Although THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME is dramatic, I found only a few
scenes moving. The characters are created with a great flourish, but
they are not compelling enough to make us care about them more than
superficially. Remember how concerned you were about Bambi and Dumbo?
Well, Disney just does not demonstrate that ability to touch us here.
What I missed most of all was the great Disney humor. In THE LION
KING, Timon and Pumbaa are hilarious. The gargoyles, Victor (voice by
Charles Kimbrough), Hugo (voice by Jason Alexander) and Laverne (voice
by Mary Wickes), had the potential to be much funnier, but the lines
screenwriters Tab Murphy and David Stainton come up are lame. If you
want to see how good a feature length cartoon can be and especially how
one can create hilarious characters that are full of pathos then you
need look no further back than last year's TOY STORY. It, of course,
did not come from the Disney studio at all, but rather from a young
Okay, okay, so I have expressed my disappointment, but what did you
like about the movie other than the look, you ask? Well, that is not a
fair question since I want to tell you more about the visual statement
this picture makes. I think Disney's animation represents the best in
American art today. I am sure Disney would have Monet under contract if
he were still alive.
Let me try to capture some of what I think makes these visuals so
outstanding. First, the use of light has all of the realism of a
Vermeer. As the clouds move across the sky and as the characters walk
around the room, the light moves realistically and dramatically across
the characters' faces. The colors are done in a slightly hazy blend of
shades of roses and blues. Most impressive of all are the transitions
from the Impressionistic landscape scenes to the imposing scenes of
massive buildings that seem to shoot straight out of the canvas, I mean
screen. My favorite part of the drawing is that of Esmeralda's eyes.
They are so large with a blue green luminesce that they steal any scene
they are in.
Although I had expected more, the story does have many good
scenes. Judge Claude Frollo (voice by Tony Jay) has a small scene where
he smushes ants with his thumb and thereby demonstrates his
sinisterness. Esmeralda (voice by Demi Moore) is given to making
speeches every now and then like "You speak of justice and yet you are
cruel to those most in need of justice." Here we are generally saved
from the political correctness dogma that was so pervasive in
POCAHONTAS. In fact one of funnier lines comes when Esmeralda sees
Quasimodo (voice by Tom Hulce) at the Feast of Fools and tells him, "By
the way, great mask," about his face. The most poignant scene in the
film is when Esmeralda frees Quasimodo when he is being pelted with
fruit. The drawing of Quasimodo is a well chosen compromise. He is
disfigured, but not so horrible looking that he might scare small
The movie is filled with songs (Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz),
but I found all of them instantly forgettable. Clearly the worst set of
songs from Disney in years.
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME runs 1:35 which is just about right.
The film is rated G. There is no nudity, sex, or bad language, and the
violence is mild. There are a few scenes like the fire one or the one
with a person falling from a building that may scare kids under 4 as may
the overall dark tone of the show. My son Jeffrey (age 7) who is
hypersensitive to violence thinks it would be fine for kids of all
ages. He loves the show and recommends it. I like it too albeit not as
much as Jeffrey. I recommend it to you and give it ***.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes