June 21, 1996 in Seven

Quasimodo Is Quasi-Hugo In ‘Hunchback,’ Disney Dabbles With A Darker Theme

Michael H. Price Fort Worth Star-Telegram
 

Paris is burning, and you can lay the blame on “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

Everything is going to turn out all right, though, because this is the Disney version. The ruined city will repair itself in time for a soaring finale, and the worst the spinally handicapped title character will suffer will be a - well, not to give away too much, but the Hunchback’s fate in this movie has to be more upbeat than what Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel allowed him.

Still and all, this cuddly Quasimodo represents many breakthroughs for the pioneering movietoon studio. Its essential loyalty to Hugo makes for the most horrifically gloomy Disney movie in history, as grim in its entirety as “Pinocchio” (1940) and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937) are in fits and starts. As a work of moving illustration, the film is magnificent. “Hunchback’s” element of villainy is a sanctimonious public official named Frollo (voiced with droll malice by Tony Jay). This Frollo is of course less conflicted a character than Hugo provided - but he is alarmingly mature for what is to be marketed as a children’s entertainment. He patently believes he is on a holy mission to commit genocide, even as he lusts after Esmerelda, one of the gypsies whose tribe he seeks to slaughter.

Esmerelda (spoken by Demi Moore and sung by Heidi Mollenhauer) is likewise a departure - or a continuation of the greater realism in human-figure modeling that Disney’s animation shop tackled in earnest with last year’s “Pocahontas.” Squeeze this Esmerelda into a pair of spangled tights, and she could pass for DC Comics’ Wonder Woman. Likewise is the romantic leading man, a military captain named Phoebus (voiced by Kevin Kline), a reasonably lifelike figure - but a much nicer guy than the rapacious opportunist created by Hugo.

Quasimodo gets the best of the bargain: He remains a textbook study in birth defects, but he has been given the soul of a poet and a melodious voice (Tom Hulce’s, that is) and is apparently freed of the profound deafness that would afflict someone who has rung the huge bells in the tower of Notre Dame since childhood. This “Quasi,” as his pals call him, hangs out with three comical gargoyles (Jason Alexander, Charles Kimbrough and the late Mary Wickes) and muses philosophically about leaving his cloistered environment to roam at large.

Much of the tale is carried with singing that belongs more to Broadway and light opera than to the pop-tune realms of Disney.

Sweet-natured or not, this Quasimodo is still formidably strong and even intimidating at moments. The team effort (directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, with many contributing screenwriters) leaves most of the meanness to the oppressors, however, and even flirts with tragedy before lapsing into an ending that will have the Hugo purists squirming.

MEMO: These sidebars appeared with the story: “THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME” Locations: Lincoln Heights, Newport and Showboat Cinemas Credits: Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, featuring the voices of Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Kevin Kline Running time: 1:25 Rating: G

OTHER VIEWS Here’s what other critics say about “The Hunchback of Notre Dame:” Joe Baltake/Sacremento Bee: Disney’s ambitious new version of Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is not just superior entertainment, but also a film that tests human nature. The kind of excellence that this movie represents isn’t always appreciated - sometimes, it’s resented. … “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is so perfect that it’s annoying but, the fact is, animation doesn’t get much better than this. Duane Byrge/The Hollywood Reporter: Pouring Victor Hugo’s classic “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” into the “Pocahontas” mold and sprinkling it with “Beauty and the Beast” themery, this outing seems more like one of those paint-by-numbers pictures rather than one painted from the heart. To be sure, all the winning parts are in place, but the transposition is more mechanical than magical, more cautious than carefree, more proper than poignant.

These sidebars appeared with the story: “THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME” Locations: Lincoln Heights, Newport and Showboat Cinemas Credits: Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, featuring the voices of Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Kevin Kline Running time: 1:25 Rating: G

OTHER VIEWS Here’s what other critics say about “The Hunchback of Notre Dame:” Joe Baltake/Sacremento Bee: Disney’s ambitious new version of Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is not just superior entertainment, but also a film that tests human nature. The kind of excellence that this movie represents isn’t always appreciated - sometimes, it’s resented. … “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is so perfect that it’s annoying but, the fact is, animation doesn’t get much better than this. Duane Byrge/The Hollywood Reporter: Pouring Victor Hugo’s classic “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” into the “Pocahontas” mold and sprinkling it with “Beauty and the Beast” themery, this outing seems more like one of those paint-by-numbers pictures rather than one painted from the heart. To be sure, all the winning parts are in place, but the transposition is more mechanical than magical, more cautious than carefree, more proper than poignant.

Get stories like this in a free daily email


Please keep it civil. Don't post comments that are obscene, defamatory, threatening, off-topic, an infringement of copyright or an invasion of privacy. Read our forum standards and community guidelines.

You must be logged in to post comments. Please log in here or click the comment box below for options.

comments powered by Disqus