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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

Week # 47: "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"

(Originally published on 11/25/22)


The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Run time: 91 min.

Release Date: June 21, 1996

Where/when I first saw it: Not sure I ever saw it all the way through before today.

How I watched it today: Blu-ray, Saturday afternoon

With the success of “The Lion King,” it seemed as though Disney gave itself permission to go a little darker with this current brand of animated films. While the creators did go back to the playbook of using a source that has been adapted many times over, they still made their darkest film since 1985’s “The Black Cauldron” and almost as alienating. It’s no wonder when watching it today that, despite good reviews, it didn’t make much of a connection with audiences. There is a cruel streak that runs through Victor Hugo’s work that one has to wonder how the studio ever thought they could adapt it into something cute, funny and fantastical, complete with an uplifting, radio-friendly soundtrack.

Try they did and the result is ultimately an uneven, but never boring spectacle that somehow skated by with a G rating (while “The Black Cauldron” still remains PG-rated). The artists here still try to make it a crowd-pleaser with all the usual show-stoppers: Quasi has a song early on about wanting to break free and be in the world outside; there is a “Kiss the Girl” like interlude to drive the romance; and the “BIG FINISH!” that closes many of the musical numbers in this era are abundant. There is also the comic relief in the form of three wisecracking gargoyles, placed prominently on the poster. They try so hard, but it’s these formulaic missteps that keeps “Hunchback” from being one of the great-risk-taking animated films of this decade.

The film works best when it stays in the darkness and the plight of the tragic hero. Perhaps this was more than the writers could possibly achieve and still please the shareholders. “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” remains a beautifully animated film that shoots for Andrew Lloyd Webber-esque heights as the music tries to match the grandeur of the sights on screen. There are melodies that stay in your head when it’s over and that’s certainly a plus, along with the solid voicework by Tom Hulse and the rest of the cast. There is much to admire here. One just wishes it was put together by a true artist and not a committee.

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