The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
- Tom Hulce as Quasimodo
- Demi Moore as Esmeralda
- Tony Jay as Judge Claude Frollo
- Kevin Kline as Phoebus
One of Disney’s darkest and most mature animated films, The Hunchback of Notre Dame emerges as an excellently crafted drama on faith, acceptance and prejudice inspired by the Victor Hugo novel of the same name. It may not be as cute and cuddly as other Disney films, but it boasts a mature and important message about not judging people simply because they are different.
1482 Paris. Quasimodo is the kind and gentle deformed bell-ringer in Notre Dame. He is watched by Judge Claude Frollo, a cruel minister who hides behind the cloak of religion and who has a deep loathing of gypsies. Unbeknownst to Quasimodo, Frollo had a part in the death of his mother who was a gypsy on the steps of Notre Dame. He tells Quasimodo that he must never leave the bell tower as he is a deformed creature. Yet Quasimodo yearns for a taste of freedom and urged by his only friends, the trio of gargoyles known as Victor, Hugo and Laverne, defying his master sneaks off to the annual Festival of Fools. Quasimodo is crowned the King of Fools and appears to be enjoying himself. That is until the crowd begin to turn on him and viciously torment him. As he struggles for help, Frollo lets the cruelty continue to teach Quasimodo a lesson even though the kind Captain Phoebus wants to end the humiliation. Quasimodo is saved by another outcast, the beautiful and selfless gypsy dancer Esmeralda who voices her views on Frollo’s intolerance towards those who are different. This encounter between Quasimodo and Esmeralda forever changes both of them in this tale of prejudice, bravery and how although we are all different, we still have the right to be treated fairly.
I’ve always found The Hunchback of Notre Dame to be an underrated entry into the Disney collection of films. The animation is second to none in recreating the bustling streets of Paris and the gloomy splendour of Notre Dame in which Quasimodo resides. For a Disney film, it does deal with some deep themes such as prejudice, religious hypocrisy and also lust. The theme of prejudice is handled in a sophisticated manner, we as an audience grow to like Quasimodo and see the kindness of him rather than just his outward appearance that others judge him on. Religious hypocrisy is embodied by the evil Frollo, who often conceals his hatred of those behind the veil of faith. He truly is a frightening villain because of the cruelty he inflicts on those, especially Quasimodo. It is interesting to watch Frollo because he says he hates gypsies, yet he finds himself lusting after Esmeralda. The scene in which he sings the song “Hellfire” and the fireplace displays visions of Esmeralda dancing is a strange, sinister moment indeed.
The songs in the movie are not as memorable as other Disney tunes, but there is a haunting level of maturity to them. “Out There” sung by Quasimodo is a yearning number about his longing to be free from being trapped in the bell tower. The previously mentioned “Hellfire” is a Gothic song of uncertainty as the pious Frollo wrestles with his passion for Esmeralda. But the song that is most beautiful and memorable is “God help the outcasts”, an earnest ballad sung by Esmeralda inside the eponymous cathedral as she asks God to look over those around her who suffer prejudice and ridicule on a daily basis. One of the biggest highlights of this startling mature Disney venture is the voice cast assembled. Tom Hulce provides pathos and wonder as the downtrodden Quasimodo, a character who is a victim of cruelty because of his appearance. Demi Moore combines passionate selflessness and feisty attitude as the dancing gypsy Esmeralda, who is the first person to show Quasimodo kindness and understand his plight. Tony Jay is villainy personified as Frollo, his deep angered voice and all-consuming power quite scary to behold. Rounding out the deeply poignant voices is Kevin Kline as Phoebus, the captain who comes to resist Frollo’s persecution of others and begins to see life differently after meeting both Quasimodo and Esmeralda. The gargoyles provide some side-splitting comic relief throughout the story and act as humourous advisors to Quasimodo in his journey.
Dark yet hopeful and important, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is an underrated Disney gem that shows a level of maturity and awareness than isn’t often seen in other pieces.