The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Disney)

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A gem that has several very visible flaws; yet, with these flaws, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" shines as the best from the Disney factory yet. For, at first, the company name and movie title didn't quite appear to sit well together. You don't marry the king of novel Gothic gloom (Mr. Victor Hugo) with one of the world's most beloved (if not biggest) animation companies and expect the usual world population to be at the reception; but expect even Mr. Walt Disney to pat himself on the shoulder blade (or what's left of it) for allowing a hideous hunchback to be transformed into a Gene Kelly-Incredible Hulk combo type of hero.


This "hero" is Quasimodo (Tom Hulce), which by the way means half-formed. It's about his distorted education (whoever teaches the alphabet using abomination, blasphemy, condemnation, damnation and eternal damnation ?), his humiliation (being crowned the king of fools), his first love and his big, big heart. It's about how our outward appearances should not matter (sounds familiar?). It's about believing in yourself but not being self-righteous. And it's about reliving the magic of Oscar-nominated "Beauty and the Beast", directed by Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale (both, incidentally, were also responsible for "Hunchback".)


Wise and Trousdale obviously had a vision that didn't exactly conform to your usual "and they lived happily ever after" type of fairy tale. They employed a lot of artistic license when rewriting the plot. It was, after all, a cartoon; but they didn't allow it to become an excuse to dissolve the poignancy and tragedy into nothingness. Quasimodo did not get the girl. Nobody exactly lived "happily ever after". There was an amazing amount of implicit blood and violence. All that with Quasimodo's unrestrained outburst near the end and the best animated celluloid representation of the kiss contribute to the real emotions that flowed from the characters.


Talking about being real, the drawings in "Hunchback" were simply breathtaking. The two directors and chief artists actually made their way to the famed Notre Dame cathedral in Paris to experience first hand the magnificence and beauty of it. For ten whole days, they walked through, looked from, sat on, literally lived and breathed Notre Dame. The artists even "swatched" some dirt just to match the colour! The result was such artistry that even George Lucas and Steven Spielberg would have wanted to call their own. The scenes in the market place, the panoramic view of the steps of Notre Dame and beyond all left me gaping in wonder and sheer excitement that such representation could be possible through animation; it's all thanks to computer animation.


Computer or no computer, animation has certainly come a long way. From the days of "101 Dalmatians", "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" and "Cinderella" to "Hunchback" (Disney's 34th full-length animated feature film), there have been no lack of originality. Like its predecessor, "Hunchback" is definitely original material destined for the Oscars. Like the directors functioning as visionaries, the stars that are being voice casted work like magic. Tom Hulce takes centre stage as Quasimodo's voice, giving it a raw passion and sounding appropriately un-handsome. A very plucky, wild and fiery gypsy Esmeralda voiced very convincingly by Demi Moore. It is almost a reprisal of her recent role in "Striptease" as an exotic dancer (euphemism for stripper) , which censors here will not take to kindly. Kevin Kline did justice to the inclusion of the devistatingly handsome Captain Phoebus by giving him that wickedly humorous edge. All the voice actors gave such a brilliant performance that they didn't allow the celluloid to imprison their characters, rather they added a very human dimension that made very cartoon pop right out of the screen.


The animated feature film, though being a highly collaborative effort (especially the case with Disney), hangs on three main factors to work well: the directors' vision, the voice casting and the drawings themselves; all of which we have looked at previous to this. In the case of a Disney cartoon, however, the music also features as one of the facets of a Disney gem. What I would have considered a loss for Disney with the death of Howard Ashman has been filled by Stephen Schwartz; this is not to say that I am dismissing the Elton John-Tim Rice-Hans Zimmer team responsible for "The Lion King". The incredible sensitivities that Ashman had with his