In 15th century Paris, Clopin the puppeteer tells the story of Quasimodo, the misshapen but gentle-souled bell ringer of Notre Dame, who was nearly killed as a baby by Claude Frollo, the Minister of Justice. But Frollo was forced by the Archdeacon of Notre Dame to raise Quasimodo as his own. Now a young man, Quasimodo is hidden from the world by Frollo in the belltower of the cathedral. But during the Festival of Fools, Quasimodo, cheered on by his gargoyle friends Victor, Hugo, and Laverne, decides to take part in the festivities, where he meets the lovely gypsy girl Esmeralda and the handsome soldier Phoebus. The three of them find themselves ranged against Frollo's cruelty and his attempts to destroy the home of the gypsies, the Court of Miracles. And Quasimodo must desperately defend both Esmeralda and the very cathedral of Notre Dame. Written by
Disney adapts the famous novel by Victor Hugo into their 34th animated feature, telling the story of the lonely, deformed Quasimodo, the secluded bellringer of Notre Dame, who lives by himself in Notre Dame's church towers, with only three stone gargoyles named Victor, Hugo (get it?), and Laverne for company. At the gargoyles' playful urging, Quasi sneaks away from the church one day to attend the Festival Of Fools, and makes his first real human friend in the beautiful gypsy girl, Esmeralda. But soon, after Quasimodo is ridiculed by the crowd for his appearance, he and Esmeralda find themselves in trouble with Quasimodo's wicked stepfather, Frollo, the ruler of Notre Dame. With help from his three gargoyle friends, as well as the kind soldier Captain Phoebus (who has fallen in love with Esmeralda), it's up to Quasimodo to save Esmeralda and the town of Notre Dame itself from Frollo's evil control....
If you've been reading some of my other reviews, then you know by now that I'm a big fan of Disney animated features: "Snow White," "Fantasia," "Tarzan," and "Atlantis," to name but a few (and I do plan on reviewing more Disney films in the future). But now that I've just gotten reacquainted with Disney's 1996 film, "The Hunchback Of Notre Dame," finally released on DVD, I know now beyond the shadow of a doubt that this beautiful animated film is indeed my favorite Disney feature of them all (okay, so "Fantasia" arguably remains the best *animated* of the lot, but it certainly didn't have an actual plot). I don't think I've ever cried so much during a Disney movie. "The Hunchback Of Notre Dame" is, quite simply, a glorious triumph for Walt Disney Productions.
Granted, the Disney team have "Disney-ized" Hugo's original novel, such as turning it into a musical, including sidekick stone gargoyles that come to life, as well as the obligatory happy ending, but no matter. This is a truly wonderful animated film through and through that will touch you right down to your very soul. It's very well-written, surprisingly dark at times, gorgeously animated, very funny AND very dramatic at turns, with a first-rate voice cast including Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Kevin Kline, Tony Jay & Jason Alexander, and beautiful, memorable songs by Alan Menken & Stephen Schwartz. And I promise you, there won't be a dry eye in the house at the film's end, mark my words.
HOW, in Heaven's name, did the Academy overlook "Hunchback Of Notre Dame" altogether in 1997? Not even any nominations for the music! Absolutely outrageous. Perhaps with the five previous Disney films in a row being honored by the Academy, from "The Little Mermaid" through "Pocahontas," the Academy simply wanted to take a break from nominating Disney films, not realizing how truly brilliant "The Hunchback Of Notre Dame" was. How very unfortunate that "Hunchback" had to fall victim to the Academy's ignorance that year.
Still, it takes nothing away from the remarkable achievement that this Disney film is. Against all the odds, the Disney team transformed Victor Hugo's novel into a truly lovely tale for all ages to enjoy. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll enjoy the music, you'll be moved. Step aside, "Beauty And The Beast"---"The Hunchback Of Notre Dame" is the REAL Disney masterpiece from the last few years.
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