1996; Rated G; 90 Minutes
Tom Hulce: Quasimodo
Demi Moore: Esmeralda
Tony Jay: Frollo
Kevin Kline: Phoebus
Paul Kandel: Clopin
Jason Alexander: Hugo
Charles Kimbrough: Victor
Mary Wickes: Laverne
Produced by Roy Conli, Don
Hahn and Philip Lofaro; Directed by Gary Trousdale and
Kirk Wise; Screenwritten by Irene Mecchi, Tab Murphy,
Jonathan Roberts, Bob Tzudiker and Noni White
by DAVID KEYES
say that the standard animated movie is innocent and childish.
People have the notion that nowadays, they tend to be comedic
and musical stories strictly for children, and that cartoon
features don't often portray the dark and cruel elements
of real life as the early movies, like "Pinocchio," did.
That is simply untrue; even through the period following
Disney's unfortunate death, the dark and tormenting factors
of life's lessons showed up in the movies just as they did
before; they brought on the beastly horrors for children
were forced to face. Kids will face this stuff one day in
their lives, so why not start out at the beginning when
they know more about learning what's right and what's wrong?
1985's "The Black Cauldron," the villain, the Horned King,
resurrected the dead carcasses of an underground dungeon
and made them members of his army of the dead; the "cauldron-born,"
as he put it. The sequences in which these skeletal figures
rise from their grave is so tormenting and frightening that,
yes, it resembles those types of moments in the early animated
movies; a witch was killed and then left to vultures; a
wooden boy confronted the possibility of being swallowed
by a whale; heck, hunters almost killed thousands of forest
animals when their flames got out of hand. It is a very
true belief that moments like this in animation tend to
make the minds and bodies of little children grow stronger.
If they are faced with these things through animation at
such a young age, who's to say that it doesn't shape what
they become tomorrow? They'll be informed of what to expect
in life as they get older.
taking this observation seriously, think of the animated
movie "The Hunchback Of Notre Dame." It sneaks up on you.
It's a story that has been told in countless ways and countless
times. Victor Hugo's novel portrays characteristics of life
so tormenting and cruel that they are almost too much for
adults to handle. Many wondered, how could Disney do this
story for children? Simple answer: revise the story to where
the formula and messages are the same, but modify the content
so it isn't too stern or tough for kids to digest.
result unveils this astonishing achievement of a movie,
filled with all of those horrors and darknesses children
were exposed to as in the golden animated classics. At a
time when the Disney studios seems to be wallowing in their
rebirth of animation, "The Hunchback Of Notre Dame" emerges
like an animated butterfly; fresh, elegant, and often stunning.
The movies is not just for children; it is a show of beauty
and wonder for older people as well, be they kids or adults.
To get the impression that this is the standard innocent,
childish animated movie is to be blind from reality.
do this movie, Disney's executives obviously took big risks.
They had to bring an intense story like Victor Hugo's and
rework it to shape the form of an animated movie. Any person
who knows what the animation process involves knows that
these risks can be hard to get away with. But here, Disney's
artists get away with the risks in any little way they can.
They tell the story of Quasimodo and the gypsy who saw him
for the person on the inside as, more or less, a story about
the worlds of prejudice, without ever getting too violent
or too tormenting for children to enjoy.
that's not to say the movie is innocent. In the very first
scene, the camera closes in on the peak of the cathedral
Notre Dame, standing above the clouds solemnly, as if it
were a character all by itself. As it turns out, it is;
after we are taken down to the streets of Paris and along
the cathedral's walls, the animation and visual techniques
bring the church and that stern bell tower above it to life
all by itself, without the character narration or motivation.
But heck, we're given those things as well. The narrator
is a gypsy himself; Clopin (Paul Kandel) sings how the legend
of Notre Dame's bell ringer came to be. The viscous Judge
Claud Frollo (Tony Jay) brought on the death of a gypsy
on the steps of the cathedral, not realizing that she was
carrying an infant with her. Deformed and ugly, Frollo almost
accomplishes throwing him down a well. But he is stopped
by the church's Archdeacon, a man dressed in robes and facial
expressions that you wouldn't normally see in an animated
movie. He points out that Frollo can get away with the crime
he is about to commit, but he can never hide what he has
done from the eyes of Notre Dame. Just as he says 'eyes,'
the robed statues on the cathedral stare down at Frollo
as if her were some sort of coward. The Archdeacon then
prompts Frollo to raise the child as his own. Just as long
as he is locked away in the cathedral's bell tower, Frollo
accepts the punishment.
but that's only the first sequence; you can imagine what
follows. Story directions come along and tie in with the
Broadway-worthy musical score and the nostalgic, limitless
animation as if they were meant to be together forever.
By this, I mean that the blends of these aspects work best
with each other. The story itself never seems to get sidetracked
from the textures and tapestries of the other whirling elements;
and as it draws to its climax, continues pursuing the message
it intends to inflict on the audience; that we can sometimes
look on the outside of someone and judge them because of
it. Yet in reality, it is only fair to judge one on what
whole concept gives a fresh look to a tired story for the
movies. Hugo's novel is considered one of the great literary
works of this millennium, but the movies, for the most part,
vary so widely in content from the original story that its
hard to appreciate every modified effort. If there was one
to appreciate the most, it would have to be Disney's. It
is a triumph of animation and plot, emotion and lyrical
music, and of comedy and sadness. Make your children see
the movie. If they get to like the deformed main character,
then you know these kids can tell the difference between
right and wrong.
1998, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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