The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

An odd choice for a Disney film, to put it mildly. With most of their stories you can see what the motivating factor was behind their production – they’d been trying to get The Little Mermaid right since the 1930s, the Beast in Beauty and the Beast was an animation challenge, Aladdin was going to be a lot of fun and The Lion King was going to look fantastic. Why Hunchback, especially when you consider how much the source material had to be changed to make it G-rated? Why not Dickens or Don Quixote? Why not a seven-part adaptation of In Search of Lost Time, with Mickey Mouse as Marcel Proust and Donald Duck as Swann? I’d pay to see that.

Every character nuance of Victor Hugo’s novel is flattened to make it suitable for kids. This is an instance where Disney is actually held back by audience expectations – any other talented animation company could have make a fantastic adult version of this. One where, say, Quasimodo is deaf, Esmerelda dies, Claude Frollo is an Archdeacon and not a judge, and Captain Phoebus is an utter bastard, instead of the hero (well-voiced, as you’d expect, by Kevin Kline). Oh, and one which retains the goat bestiality. Disney, never one to shy away from cute animals, have at least kept the goat.

The songs are relentless, despite some brave vocal performances, with lyrics by Godspell’s Stephen Schwartz which have none of Howard Ashman’s wordplay. Somehow they still seem frivolous when superimposed on the serious background. This, thank god, was the last Broadway Disney film (though not the last to have lots and lots of incongruous songs). The technological development this time is the computer-generated crowd scenes, which work well except for a few scenes, where the figures are running through a fight cycle which obviously isn’t meant to be seen close up – uncomfortably reminiscent of Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings, where only the main characters are animated and the rest badly rotoscoped.

The villain this time doesn’t have big hooded eyes, but he does possess a pretty little mouth. “Judge” Frollo also openly lusts after the gypsy Esmerelda, which makes him the butchest Disney villain for a good while. There’s a really creepy moment when he smells her hair. Why, Disney, why?

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8 Responses to “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”

  1. What would Cocteau have made of this… and what would Disney make of Nineteen Eighty-Four? The first half is serious (in a parallel universe there must be a Cocteau version) and the second is sarcastic… but a Disneyfied Animal Farm is all too plausible, isn’t it?

  2. Disney’s The Metamorphosis! One morning, cursed by an old Gypsy, Gregory Sam wakes up to find that he’s been turned into a giant but still rather anthropomorphic insect. His family reject him, but when disaster strikes and they’re in danger of being sent to the Penal Colony, Greg and his adorable sidekick, the Odradek, save the day and his family come to realise that it’s who he really is deep down that matters! The Gypsy reappears, and reveals that this was the whole point of her spell. Everyone joins in a rousing song and dance number and Greg decides that he likes being a bug!

  3. Featuring the hit song ‘Don’t Throw Apples at Me, Daddy’ and the Elton John/Ashley Tisdale duet ‘I Can Withstand Radiation But I Can’t Withstand Your Love’

  4. Oh Christ, I’ve started writing it… Out! Out of my head, pointless musical numbers!

  5. I’ve been fighting my way through ‘A la recherche du temps perdu” in the original French, in a vain attempt to prove to myself that my BA is worth something. I think if I’d had to watch a badly dubbed version with Donald Duck as Swann, I’d probably jump out a window.

    Disney did the Oliver Twist thing with animals at one point sometime in the late 80s – ‘Oliver and Company’, VERY loosely based on Dickens, with a cat as the main character. But then again, who hasn’t done Oliver Twist?

  6. That’s just what the Artful Dodger said!

    In Search of Lost Time took me four years in the unoriginal English. I had to start again twice… I kept getting lost halfway through Within a Budding Grove.

    I totally forgot about Oliver and Company! Never seen it. Okay, how about Disney does Austen? Daisy Duck as Elizabeth Bennett. Goofy as Darcy, obviously.

  7. After reading the hunchback (in English my french c’set ne pas bien), I hired the film out of curiosity. The book was so dark and full of desperation and gloom that I HAD to see what Disney would make of it. I have a sick curiosity that leads me down dark alley’s obviously.

  8. Rhinocrates Says:

    Now what would Michael Bay do with it?

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