Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Hunchback of Notre Dame; animated musical-drama, USA, 1996; D: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise, S: Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Kevin Kline, Tony Jay, Paul Kandel, Jason Alexander, Mary Wickes

Paris, 15th century. Judge Frollo persecutes Gypsies around the town, resulting in the death of a woman. He also wants to kill her deformed baby, but a bishop from the cathedral of Notre Dame forbids it and persuades him to take care of the child. Frollo raised Quasimodo as an obediant servant, who rings the bells and is never to leave the Notre Dame due to his deformity. However, Quasimodo disobeys him when he goes out to attend a festival in the street, where he meets a Gypsy woman, Esmeralda, and helps to save her from Frollo's army, with the help of dissident soldier Phoiebus. Frollo dies during the siege of the Notre Dame, and Esmeralda introduces Quasimodo to the crowd outside, who accept him and a part of their society.

This 34th animated feature length film from the Walt Disney studios is by far the closest they ever came to an actual animated film for grown ups till date: not only is it surprisingly dark by introducing some extremely difficult themes set in the late Middle Ages (racism; persecution of a national group; religious fundamentalism and intolerance; Plato's allegory of the cave) but it is unrelenting in breaking and twisting some old, established cliches of the studio by having a physically deformed hero, Quasimodo, thereby circumventing the standard that a protagonist is always beautiful and always gets the girl / prince, while the bad guy is always ugly, and thus the obligatory jokes and silly gags almost seem to bother in the this edition. The writing could have been more skillful, since the authors seemed to have in advance settled for a fair share of throw away musical revues or buffoonery (in one, the 'living' Gargoyle even dresses up as Esmeralda to sing for Quasimodo) - probably to somewhat relieve the dark mood as a compromise for being a Disney film after all - as well as too much empty walk in the singing, or giving up on a true foray into making Quasimodo into a really interesting, versatile character, instead of just settling on him being the "default protagonist" for the sake of argument. "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" really seems like an 'unorthodox' Disney animated film, yet the finale set during the siege of Notre Dame offers the writers in their finest hour (a refrence to "The Wizard of Oz"; Gargoyle Hugo throws a catapult backwards on the ground, and it flips and hits the guards like a fly-swat) while it has a refreshingly different ending.


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