Victor Hugo devotees will not exactly like what Disney did to his classic novel, but musical and animation devotees may be able to forgive. Some still might not be able to being forced to buy the inferior direct-to-video sequel.
Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996): In 15th century Paris, Minister Frollo (Tony Jay) pursues the law with an iron fist, especially against gypsies. His pursuit ends with a mother dead and her deformed baby nearly cast into a well. The Archdeacon of Notre Dame (David Ogden Stiers) tells Frollo that can’t murder the child at the steps of the massive cathedral.
Frollo fears for his mortal soul so he has the Archdeacon raise Quasimodo (Tom Hulce) as the bell ringer, confined to the tour where the youth imagines that the gargoyles (Hugo – Jason Alexander, Victor – Charles Kimbrough, and Laverne – Mary Wickes) speak to him and are his only friends. Captain Phoebus (Kevin Kline) has returned to Paris and finds Frollo a tyrant but follows orders. The gypsy Esmeralda (Demi Moore) also is in the city and she will fire the lust of Frollo, and the love of both Quasi and Phoebus.
Hunchback of Norte Dame II (2002): Phoebus (Kline) and Esmeralda (Moore) have a son named Zephyr (Haley Joel Osment). They all are still friends with Quasi (Hulce) who still cares for the bells of Notre Dame and talks to his gargoyle pals (Alexander, Kimbrough, and Jane Withers replacing the late Wickes). A master thief called Saroush (Michael McKean) and his apprentice Madeline (Jennifer Love Hewitt) plot to steal one of Notre Dame’s bells, but Madeline is having second thoughts about conning the gentle bell ringer.
Fans of Victor Hugo may well blow a gasket with how sweetened his novel becomes for the Disney version (even if they did name the comedy gargoyles after him). Characters are dropped, comedy kid-friendly elements added, and Quasimodo is made downright adorable. Ironically, much of those elements still give way to some adult themes hidden within the film. Frollo’s lust of Esmeralda makes for a killer song in “Hellfire” as well as images of hell and flame. Tony Jay takes the villainous Minister of Justice and plays him to the hilt.
Tom Hulce does make a hunchback we can sympathize with, but it’s far from Hugo’s deaf, deformed hero. They even made a plush doll of Quasi. Well, it’s for the kiddies and the under-five set may well not catch on to the headier elements and just get caught up in the fantastic songs and animation.
Hunchback II is certainly made for them alone, even with most of the cast returning it’s not up to the original. I’d consider it more of a special feature than a separate movie. You’re forced to buy it and sadly some of the laserdisc special features were probably dropped to make room for it on the Blu-ray.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is presented in a 1080p transfer (1.78:1) and Hunchback II is as well (1.66:1). Hunchback’s special features include a commentary by producer Don Hahn and directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, the 28 minute “Making of Hunchback,” the 3 minute “A Guy Like You” in several languages. Hunchback II includes a 5 minute “Behind the Scenes” and the 3 minute “A Gargoyle’s Life” short. You also get DVD copies of each film, although they’re stacked on top of each other.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame has been given the Disney touch and although it is a fun, family film those wanting a dark take closer to Hugo’s novel will find much to grouse about. I know, it’s Topsy Turvy. It still is a fun film with soaring music and a oily (in a good way) vocal turn by Tony Jay.
Visit the DVD database for more information.Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.