A Guy Like Kevin
So far The Hunchback of Notre Dame is the first D52 film I'm glad I "forced" myself to watch. There were a few I hadn't seen that did make me say, "Hmm, that wasn't too terrible. It had some nice moments." But there is a lot to appreciate in "Hunchback" that I wish I had given myself the chance to appreciate before. Of course the animation and art direction is superb. That's to be expected. The music reminds me of Phantom of the Opera or Les Miserables in that, even though they're not exactly fun tunes to sing along to on a regular basis, they are still powerfully impressive.
But what strikes me most is the overall tone. It's very...to put it simply, serious. But not serious in a boring way like Pocahontas. It actually deals with interestingly complex issues (or at least considerably more complex than "princess finds prince and they love each other) and handles them in a pretty respectable way. I mean, if you look past the crotch shots and sidelining comedy statues. And I do want to look past them, because I like to imagine this as the potential for a completely ... well it doesn't have to be serious and straight-faced at all times. I do like what Clopin brings to the party, and "Topsy-Turvy Day" is my newest earworm. But let's take away the outright goofiness of the gargoyles. I didn't find them funny and I don't buy that they're actually sympathetic to Quasimodo's plea. Even their song just comes across as a way to pass the time for actually important things to happen. So yeah, imagine what it would be like if (alternate Disney fiction-realities seem to be a recurring theme in my reviews, eh?) the granted-sparse-for-animated-Disney-standards comic relief was toned down even further, to the bare minimum of letting Clopin be whimsically weird and allowing Phoebus* his sarcastic remarks. First off I'm not sure how it would be advertised and marketed, since the real trailers sure did try their best to pass this movie off as a fun-filled celebratory romp. We did have a lot of fun with Quasimodo, didn't we? Up until the point where he gets publically shamed and humiliated and even further emotionally scarred. At the end of that same scene.
It shouldn't be a kids movie. I'm not saying that kids shouldn't watch movies that deal with mature themes ("HELLFIRE! HELLFIRE!") but that it strikes me as awkward to confront them with those themes when they wouldn't expect them. If you put it Hunchback on movie for the first time for them, they're gonna know it's a Disney movie and have expectations for something more fun and lighthearted than a judge who finds his soul tormented by the inner conflict of his hatred and lust.
Which is not say Disney shouldn't make this kind of animated movie. I think it's awesomely great that they even got as far as they did with the surprisingly deep moral themes. Could the remarkable stray from mostly fluff be considered a "gimmick?" Yeeeah, but a "gimmick" I enjoyed. Would I have wanted the Disney films to continue this same trend? No, I think it would've worn its welcome soon enough, and the cutesiness would be missed. Having already seen Hercules, I already know we'll be diverting back off of this path right away.
Favorite character: This may be a weird choice, but I'm gonna go with Clopin. I just love the way he's animated and how he talks. Is he unimportant and have nothing to do with the story? No! He's the best narrator since Alan-A-Dale (but oohh, who do I prefer? Tough call!) And like Alan-A-Dale, Clopin manages to be both the omniscent narrator and a character in the story itself. Not only that, but he somehow manages to start off telling you Quasimodo's backstory before the events of the movie take place, then is a part of the main story, and finishes telling you how everything ends as if he was telling it after everything took place all along? Or maybe his storytelling at the front of the film takes place at a different time than when he does it at the end, or...or, maybe it's best not to even question it. Until a Canonical Clopin Timeline is released, anyway.
Least character: Since at least two of the gargoyles serve the purpose of a passing acknowledgement of the author of the book, so my vote goes to Esmerelda's goat. Whose name is...Djali, I think? What did he/she? do, again? Other than tag along and not provide as much comic relief as it was probably originally meant to?
Overall: The very novelty of a G-rated Disney animated full-length feature that takes itself serious got me hooked, and the successful effort put into telling the story in a consistently entertaining way reeled me in.
*The name Phoebus, particular given to a straight-man character, might be the funniest thing of the whole 91 minutes. Phoebus. Try saying it aloud without even smiling!
I'm a Hunchback fan. I didn't see it in theaters, but my parents bought the movie as soon as it came out and I was pleased to watch it over and over again.
There's a lot to criticize, if you feel like getting nit-picky. Those three gargoyle comic relief characters weren't terribly useful in any way. They weren't funny, they did very little to push along the plot (especially when you consider that their personalities were hallucinated by Quasi himself and it's even acknowledged as such within the film), and the big war scene at the end only served to confuse me about their existance in that particular universe.
There was all the potty humor. I suppose that it was simply a reflection of the era in which the movie was made. At the same time in film making history, a lot of the writers thought that throwing in a groin hit or a few belches was enough to make the audience role in the aisles. MAybe at the time that was true, but it didn't cross over into this millenia at least for this viewer.
The computer generated crowd sequences were distractingly weird looking most especially in the overhead scenes when they seemed to be rendered as a sea of fleash colored dots.
Oh but then the score! Holy crap that is some intensely awesome, deep, bold, big, goosebump inducing excitement! I love this style of music. I grew up being taken to church every single week and I'm one of those people who ISN'T exaggerating about that. I had Sunday school at 9:30 every Sunday and I had to go to either the mass before it or the mass after it. Plus I was raised Catholic and heard all the latin words that I didn't really understand over and over. Of course the older I got the more interested I was in things like other languages, symbolism, chord progression, etc. Let me just say that this movie does all of that stuff right!
As for the characters, Quasimodo himself is a well acted and drawn character and his plight is sympathetic. Esmeralda is headstrong and independant (perhaps annoyingly so, but this too is heavily influenced by the era. Every female was headstrong and independant) but fights for a noble cause. Frollo is despicable in the juiciest way and my favorite voice actor in the film. Phoebus is on the lowest rung when it comes to main characters, but at least he does have some personality to speak of. It's a shame he doesn't get any singing time because Kevin Kline could have done his own singing voice.
Favorite Character: Mostly Arbitrarily: Achilles, the Horse. It's possibly a cheat to call him my favorite, but that horse made an impression on me. I feel that every single other character (including the background extras) is heavily charicatured. In a world where even the heavy looks bizarre, I can't help but appreciate how realistic, subtle, and well animated that horse is. It's unfortunate that he was named just for a lame pun. Couldn't it at least have been a GOOD pun?
Least necessary Character: "I'm free, I'm free!... DANG IT!"
Overall: It's thoroughly enjoyable to watch a Disney movie that doesn't at all fit the sugary sweet, constant playtime atmosphere that most people imagine. There are a lot of dark moments and heavy themes including death, self-worth, lust, sacrifice, and religion. It's colorful enough for kids, but fleashed out enough for adults and I'm surprised I've gone so long without owning this one.