Thursday, August 11, 2011

Disn-A-Thon: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

In 15th century Paris, Clopin the puppeteer tells the story of Quasimodo, the misshapen 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 lively 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. [imdb]
I really enjoy The Hunchback of Notre Dame, especially coming off of Pocahontas, of which I wasn't really all that fond.  It's actually a relatively serious movie as far as the story goes, eased in by light-hearted humour and fun (typical Disney) characters.

I am going to straight-up quote Wikipedia here for a moment in the description of some of the more "grown-up" elements of the film:
Despite the changes from the original literary source material in order to ensure a G rating, the film does manage to address mature issues such as lust, infanticide, sin, profanity, religious hypocrisy, the concept of Hell, prejudice, and social injustice, as well as acceptance that Quasi yearns for. Songs also contain rather mature lyrical content such as the words "licentious" or "strumpet" which introduce the concept of sexual indulgence, as well as frequent verbal mentions of Hell. Also notably, it is the first animated Disney film to use the word "damnation".
As for the artwork and animation, this is the first of the animated films to truly blend usage of hand-drawn and computer generated animation.  Prior films occasionally had some backgrounds or certain scenes that wiggled some CG bits in... but never to the extent that The Hunchback of Notre Dame brought.  As the film-makers stated in the commentary, the movie is essentially a "tour de force" of everything the Disney animation department could do at that time.

For the background, the animators went to Paris where they took pictures and even rubbings (used for stone patterns) of the Notre Dame Cathedral, which gave a bit of realism and actuality to the art.  It also helped that many of the segments were animated in France by French animators... They knew their subject well.

In all, this is a fine movie... and the DVD release is alright.  There weren't many special features... but there was a commentary track and a "making of" featurette hosted by Jason Alexander that tried a bit too hard at being funny.

Anyways, I'm done with this one for now... On to the next movie.