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The Hunchback of Notre Dame Movie Review

voice esmeralda self frollo

1996 – Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise –

The Disney version of Victor Hugo's 1831 novel may owe as much to RKO's 1939 film with Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara as to its literary source. The early scenes follow the development of the previous one with surprising faithfulness. The contrast between Esmeralda's unselfish prayer in the cathedral and the chorus of those around her chanting their self-centered petitions (“I ask, I ask …”) comes across in both versions, and the animators found in it a perfect moment for their most memorable song, “God Help the Outcasts.” The final image of the song lights Esmeralda (voice of Demi Moore and Heidi Mollenahauer) in the glow of the richly textured sunlight streaming through the cathedral's massive stained glass window. Musically, visually, and dramatically, it is one of the film's most uplifting moments.

The animation team worked carefully to capture the shifting patterns of light and dark in the cathedral, partly because such a design represented the duality of the central characters. Judge Frollo (Tony Jay) embodies all that is life-denying in unhealthy religion. Sneering, self-assured, harsh, and judgmental, he displays a self-righteousness that cannot tolerate the passion aroused in him by Esmeralda, and he faults her for his own growing lust. Never has there been a Disney animated villain so psychologically and morally conflicted, nor do the filmmakers shrink from exploring Frollo's divided feelings. In his musical soliloquy “Hellfire,” which contrasts Esmeralda's earlier song of Christian humility and compassion, Frollo fondles Esmeralda's scarf and stares into the swirling flames of his hearth as the image of the gypsy girl taunts him. The lyrics are a chilling combination of self-justification and self-disgust: “It's not my fault / I'm not to blame / It is the gypsy girl, the witch who sent this flame. / It's not my fault / If in God's plan / He made the Devil so much / Stronger than a man.” Later during the climax, the filmmakers find the perfect image for Frollo as he is glimpsed approaching young Quasi (Tom Hulce) speaking of duty but concealing a dagger behind his back.

Some feared that the grown-up nature of the conflict might pose a problem for parents having to explain aspects of the film to their children, and some purists complained that the film streamlined too much of the classic novel (and of course dispensed with the tragic ending). The Disney animators, however, deserve praise for their willingness to take on ambitious challenges in a genre that Disney has made its own.

Cast: Tom Hulce (voice of Quasimodo), Tony Jay (voice of Frollo), Demi Moore (speaking voice of Esmeralda), Heidi Mollenahauer (singing voice of Esmeralda), Kevin Kline (voice of Phoebus), Paul Kandel (voice of Clopin), Jason Alexander (voice of Hugo), Charles Kimbrough (voice of Victor), Mary Wickes (voice of Laverne), Jane Withers (additional voice of Laverne), David Ogden Stiers (voice of the Archdeacon) Screenwriter: Tab Murphy, Irene Mecchi, Bob Tzudiker, Noni White, Jonathan Roberts Composer: Alan Menken Producer: Don Hahn for Walt Disney Pictures; released by Buena Vista MPAA Rating: G Running Time: 86 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1996: Nominations: Original Score (Alan Menken); Golden Globe Awards, 1997: Nominations: Original Score (Alan Menken) Box Office: $100M (domestic); $284M (worldwide).

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