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
A risky wedding of wholesome classic animation, to adult and often dark-themed material. The risk paid off and the result is one of the greatest achievements of Disney Studios.
The animation here is first rate and the entire thing is shot like a live-action film with some incredible long shots, great theatrical panning and even at one point, during Quasimodo's song "Out There" a realistic camera flare (I did a double take the first time I saw it!) Hunchback is filled with all sorts of great "tricks" like this. Lighting effects here are nothing short of magnificent often subtle they sometimes change in an instant dramatically altering the mood of the piece. Frodo's demonic song "Hellfire" is perhaps one the most sinister and frightening moments to emerge from Disney and the animators let loose.
The prologue to the movie alone is a minor masterpiece and, like Beauty and the Beast, marvelously prepares us for the whirlwind of a story to take place.
The complaints about the singing and dancing gargoyles Victor, Hugo and Laverne, are simply wrongheaded. I read the Hugo classic too, and know they're not in there. What the complainants fail to realize is these gargoyles live only in Quasimodo's imagination. He invented these companions to ease an otherwise tortured, lonely, friendless life. The culmination of all of this becomes obvious in the spectacular song "A guy like you" which finishes with pigeons flying and hearts and banners and ribbons and Quasimodo being celebrated and then BAM immediately upon the conclusion of the final notes, the room becomes the same dark, dank, splintering tower filled with relics, junk and heartbreak. It's one of the movie's most shattering effects.
While deserved praise goes to the animators and crew, the voice talent here is, in my opinion, Disney's very best. Tom Hulce goes to the very soul of Quasimodo and gives a performance that is as poignant and shattering as anything he has done (Hulce also happened to be the best Hamlet I've ever seen.) Certain lines ("I am a monster, you know") will ring in my ear forever. Hulce has a beautiful voice and renders "Out there" with such abandon and vigor it makes my hair stand on end. In the quiet "Heaven's light" (which sequences into a stunning shot of the bells frantically ringing the opening theme), Hulce brings a fragility to such lines as "no face as hideous as my face, was ever meant for Heaven's light" that only a heart of stone would not be moved. Switching from pathos to rage, Hulce lets us feel the hidden rage and danger that this character also possesses. It is a truly remarkable performance.
Demi Moore, Kevin Kline, Tony Jay, Paul Kandel and the rest of the cast all sound at the top of their game creating wonderful and vivid characters.
Alan Menkin and Stephen Schwartz get to the heart of the matter with score and songs a sound that are as integral a part of the telling of this story as the animation and voices.
Hunchback is a miracle of a movie!
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