By: Alex Phuong (Two Beers) –
Victor Hugo composed two of the greatest novels ever written. His epic novel Les Misérables has inspired numerous film adaptations over the years, a Broadway musical, and a film adaptation of that same musical in 2012. Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame has also stood the test of time as a novel filled with drama and some elements of horror. Even with its horrific elements, is the hunchback really a monster? Disney attempted to answer that question when they produced an all-star animated version of this novel in 1996. The final film remains a unique installment in the Disney canon within the famous “Disney Renaissance” of the 1990s.
The animation in this film is absolutely spectacular. It is amazing how the animators were able to bring 19th century Paris to life with a unique combination of hand-drawn and computer animation. There is a plethora of memorable scenes in this film, including the opening musical number that sets the tone for the rest of the film as well as the “Topsy-Turvy Day” celebration. The real stars might not have been on the screen literally, but the voice work from Tom Hulce and Demi Moore does a fantastic job at bringing Quasimodo and Esmeralda to life. Quasimodo is obviously a special Disney character because he has a sense of heart to him that is not quite the same as other performances of Victor Hugo’s main protagonist, such as when Lon Chaney played him in 1923. That makes Quasimodo a very unique hero in a Disney (as well as any other) film!
It has been said with every great hero is a great villain. Judge Claude Frollo is arguably one of the scariest villains in the Disney cinematic world. Tony Jay actually had a very small role as Monsieur D’Arque (the person who ran the insane asylum) in Beauty and the Beast (1991), and Belle has her own cameo in this film during the song “Out There.” It is no surprise that the Disney studio would want Jay to play this villain since he played a man named “dark” in Beauty and the Beast (pun intended). The sequence called “Hellfire” is also one of the most controversial scenes ever put into a Disney film, and was nearly cut simply because it was so dark. It is safe to say that this film pushed the boundaries of what could be put into a Disney film since it deals with very mature themes.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame might not be one of the most popular Disney films ever made, but it is still very unique in its own right. It is simply an example of how the studio was experimenting with new types of material outside of the fairy tales that made the original Walt Disney famous. This film might also be very frightening, but it still has a level of sophistication that is oftentimes rarely seen in family films. In the end, what really makes a monster and what makes a man? Watch this film and see for yourself!
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: Every time the gargoyles shift from being animate to inanimate
Take a Drink: Every time Esmeralda dances beautifully (and sometimes provocatively)
Drink a Shot: Every time Frollo says the word “gypsy.”