The Hunchback of Notre Dame review
A fantastic and yet butchered adaptation
Sometimes, the best things in life don't seem like such at first.
Damn, this is a great *bleep*ing movie! Although I wouldn't say that this is the best Disney movie ever (that honor goes to Beauty And The Beast), this is definitely in my top 5 favorites list. Hunchback Of Notre Dame is an adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel of the same name (well, technically, it's called Notre Dame de Paris, but let's go by the English translation... otherwise, I'd be doing this whole review in French), and the novel was pretty damn dark. The theme of religious bigotry was given a lot of attention, and the whole time, this big dark picture was painted into the reader's head, like a powerful piece of writing! Now, this is Disney doing an animated adaptation of this novel... no way can you make a kid friendly movie without shitting on Victor's grave. But at the same time, it's the kids that rake in the money because they drag their parents to see these movies, thus the parents pay for tickets, thus more money is made. Yeah yeah, I know, balance it out with stuff for both sides of the fence - the darker story for the parents and the comic relief bits for the kids... but man, just reading that makes it sound like such a bad idea because of the overly dark nature of the book. It's really up to Disney to deliver the goods here... which they most certainly do for the most part.
Of gypsies and hunchbacks.
The movie begins with a group of gypsies sneaking into Paris... only to get caught by Judge Claude Frollo. They all manage to get away, except for one. This one has a deformed baby in her arms. Frollow kills the woman - I'd make a comment about this here, but plenty of Disney movies have deaths... some of which are actually gruesome when you think about them - and, in an attempt to atone for his sin, he raises the baby as his own. The baby in question is Quasimodo, the character that this is all about.
Flash forward 20 years, and Quasimodo is the bell ringer of the tower of Notre Dame. Over the years, he had been convinced by Frollo that he is a monster that's rejected by society, which is why he is forced to stay in the tower. But outside, he sees the festival of fools, a gypsy festival that celebrates... well, gypsies! He sneaks out of Notre Dame to join in and to his surprise, the gypsies celebrate him for his deformed appearance... that is, until Frollo's men start a riot and make him look like a dickhead that should be laughed at. He's saved by Esmeralda, who is the first human that was ever kind to him, and for that, he develops a crush on her. Frollo notices how hot she is and develops a lust for her body, even though he's a Christian judge and she's a gypsy... and hey, let's add a third guy to the mix! Captain Phoebus of Frollo's guard also lusts for Esmeralda's body.
From there, the movie really starts to dig into its central theme, which is bigotry. Not just in the sense that Quasimodo was essentially trapped in Notre Dame because of his disfigured look, but also religious bigotry. Frollo has a deep, seething hatred of gypsies, which was made evident at the beginning of the movie, and that's because they're "impure". It's funny, because the whole time, Frollo is a complete dick. He kills a gypsy woman, raises her son as his own while treating him as a monster, and lusts after women based on looks, among other things that a cold sadist would do... and yet, he does it all in the name of god. So not only is there bigotry, but there's also religious hypocrisy because he sees nothing wrong with his actions, yet he sees corruption and impurity within everyone else, especially those damn gypsies! This was easily the best feature of the movie because while it doesn't go as in depth as it could've if they weren't aiming for a G rating, it does enough to make you think about how hypocritical Christians can be and makes it feel like a well written movie. It's captivating from beginning to end as characters develop, showing their true colors and ending with a big climax that's just epic.
Ah, creative licensing...
To make it more kid friendly, the Disney adaptation adds something that kids should learn, and that's that people who are ugly outside aren't necessarily ugly inside and should be given a chance. Yeah, Quasimodo isn't exactly a looker, but he's a kind hearted person and he's a character that you can feel sympathy for, especially given his upbringing. But they *bleep* this up because Phoebus, who is easily the better looking person, isn't a douchebag like Gaston was in Beauty And The Beast. I mean he is a bit cocky, but he's actually portrayed as a good person in the movie... yes, I did just say in the movie, because in the novel, he's a complete dick - a womaniser who is vain and untrustworthy. How come we didn't have this? Oh right, because then the ending won't be kid friendly... can't have that now, can we!?
I have to say though, there is one change that I gladly welcomed, and that was to Frollo's character. In the novel, he is a good person who had a fear of women, believing that he'd have sex with them and thus not get to heaven, and the only real evil comes from him getting Quasimodo to kidnap Esmeralda, and eventually, him becoming envious of those who were even associated with her. In this movie, however, he's a cold, heartless, sadistic zealot who believes that he is a tortured soul, caught in a vice of his self righteousness and narrow minded views of justice. This change... actually makes him a very good villain, but what really sells that claim is the song "Hellfire", where his 'soul' is being tormented by the feelings of lust he has for Esmeralda. The combination of the imagery, which does a fine job of living up to the "hell" portion of the name, and the lyrics, which has him question where his liberties lie (remember, he hates gypsies with as much of a burning passion as he lusts for her). Songs like that really define a villain, and Hellfire is the best example of it. Due to that, yeah, Frollo is a very good villain. Sure, he's an obvious villain, but that's due to how he's seen in the first scene he's in! More often than not, the execution is what matters and dammit if they didn't do a good job of making him an excellent villain.
While we're thinking about Hellfire, let's talk about the songs. The song that plays before Hellfire is Heaven's Light, which is a love song sung by Quasimodo. He basically expresses his love for Esmeralda in such a delicate tone that it actually sounds beautiful, and it really shows that he has a lot of inner beauty because he's not just thinking about her body, unlike Frollo. Those two songs are the best in the movie, but there's no need to discount the others. They do a fine job of keeping the story going and even developing it and/or the characters a decent amount, and the tunes themselves are pretty good... okay, a couple of them aren't that good, with one feeling too upbeat for a movie like this and the other simply not being up to par with the rest by far... I don't know, it felt too poppy for my liking, I guess. But the rest of the soundtrack is *bleep*ing fantastic! I mean, The Bells Of Notre Dame serves as a great opening tune as it basically introduces you to the world of Notre Dame, plus it's the kind of tune that doesn't leave your head for no reason... actually, same with the rest of the soundtrack. Saying this right now - besides Fantasia, I'd say that this has the best soundtrack found in a Disney movie. *bleep* Lion King - Hunchback Of Notre Dame, baby. That's where it's at aurally.
A childhood shame.
Now, one thing I have to admit is this... when I was a kid, my favorite parts of the movie involved the gargoyles. They felt like this cheerful section of a movie that was otherwise dark and brooding, and as a kid, I was either depressed or bored during the rest of the movie. But as I got older and started to comprehend these serious themes, I was wishing that it just dealt with those themes instead of shoving them to the side with light hearted characters that are about as funny as Dane Cook. Yeah, the more I liked the movie, the less I liked the gargoyles because they were so unfunny! Pop culture jokes only really work if they're inserted into media that's not all that serious anyway, and thus you could pass them off as "haha he referenced Family Guy". In a movie such as this, the jokes were out of place... and don't get me started with the attempts at slapstick and fart jokes... no, just what the *bleep* is this shit? Back when I was like 6, I lapped this stuff up; at 20, I find them extremely irritating, out of place, and... ARGH I HATE THEM SO MUCH!
It sucks because I actually like the idea of them - Quasimodo was isolated for twenty years so it'd make sense to have some imaginary friends, and hey, why not base them off some statues? I like the idea of them keeping his spirits up because really, who else is going to? Certainly not Frollo because he's an asshole! But not only are the attempts poor and immersion breaking at best, but even the idea is practically scrapped because in the climax, they might as well be real because so much is being done by them that no ordinary human being could do in such short amounts of time! Fantasy elements in somewhat realistic tales, I have no problem with them, provided that they're done well; upbeat fantasy elements in a story that's grounded on realism in a dark setting... just doesn't work! I wasn't nearly as frustrated with their involvement in the climax as I was with them during the rest of the film, but still, it just doesn't feel right having what amounts to imaginary friends kick ass because the story calls for it.
He sounds as if he has something to say about them damn gypsies!
But overall, the voice acting is strong. Tom Hulce really brings out the sweet, sensitive side of Quasimodo with his soft voice, and when he has to get louder, there's just a lot of conviction put behind it. Tony Jay's voice for Frollo really fits as he sounds so delectably evil but yet, it also makes him sound like a regular citizen, which makes it feel convincing when people don't necessarily think of him as the stereotypical bad guy but just as a bigot. Everybody else's voices were great, but those two, I find are the best because they really stand out and bring their personalities to life more so than everybody else...
Come on, come all.
As per usual for Disney, the look of the movie is excellent. The animation flows very well and the drawings are done with such finesse that they look exactly as human beings would if we were all in 2D, but it's not just the big picture that's impressive. The details of each drawing help to make each scene stand out, like a lot of Frollo's twisted expressions that really puts emphasis on his personality, or how the animation during the festival of fools scene really brings it to life. Not to mention, the imagery during Hellfire, as I mentioned, really works well for it, with the figures in red representing those who judge whether a soul goes to heaven or hell while he begs for forgiveness (in song, mind you), and then they turn into fire that heads back to his fireplace, which symbolises him being dragged into hell... in fact, everything in that song just works well with the lyrics, the story and a whole lot of things really. It's easily the best looking part of the movie and really shows that the animators know what they're doing when it comes to that kind of thing.
A noble prince or a hunchback?
The Hunchback Of Notre Dame is a very good movie, despite some tacked on morals and irritating comic relief. Whenever it tried to do what Beauty And The Beast did a much better job of doing or inject comic relief into the mix, it fell flat on its face and in some cases, it really slows the movie down. But when it goes for the religious stuff, it's very *bleep*ing good. It really shows the viewer how hypocritical religious zealots can be, and the story itself is very well done. It engages you into the story, especially through song, which is what a musical is meant to do, but the spoken dialogue scenes are equally as engaging as they are all very well written. Really, it's just the comic relief that's the problem. It's out of place and not even that good. It's a shame, because this had the potential to be a classic Disney movie, even if the source material is a bit too dark for Disney to make into an animated film for audiences everywhere. It's not the usual Disney experience... and in this reviewer's opinion, when it's done right, it's a very, very good thing.
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