The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

Nobody lays it on quite as thick as Walt Disney.  Their newest
seasonal juggernaut, an animated operetta based on the Victor Hugo
classic, is just as big, bright, and beautiful as the marketing and
merchandising assault would lead us to believe.  Heck, we *already*
know most of what we're getting.  Having purchased our limited-
THE LION KING, and POCAHANTAS, we're pumped and primed for the
schmaltzy ballads, anthropomorphic critters, adult in-jokes, and, of
course, an everybody-cries ending.  Throw in the strange sight of a
singing hunchback, some more of that nifty computer-aided artwork,
and a trio of finger-snapping, wise-cracking gargoyles (led by the
voice of "Seinfeld's" Jason Alexander) and, viola, Disney's done it
again... except, this time, with a twist.

Under the direction of Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise (both from 
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST), the animators have broken the mold in many 
places.  This is a very Gothic movie that festers with surprisingly
dark and sinister deeds.  In the first ten minutes, alone, we witness
both a murder and attempted infanticide!  (You may want to keep the
three- and four-year olds away from this one.) There are plenty of
other adult references, some serious and some side-splitting.  It's
all a well-deserved form of compensation for us grown ups; a reward,
if you will, for having to endure all the trailers, the tie-ins, and
those dreadful cardboard figures in the lobby.

Yeah, the commercialism *is* crass.  (And, perhaps, in the case of 
most major studios, entirely co-dependent to the creative process.)  
However, I challenge anyone to name another movie this season (or 
year?) that shows as much inspiration as perspiration.  No child, 
for example, is likely to understand the agonies of the villainous 
Frolio, the repressed Parisian judge who is tormented by his desire 
for the feisty gypsy girl Esmeralda (voiced and modeled after Demi 
Moore).  But just as they laughed at pink elephants on parade and 
without knowing a thing about inebriation, so can children marvel 
at the demons that erupt from Frolio's fireplace as he imagines the 
Hell that awaits his condemned soul.  (Rated "G"/95 minutes)

Grade: A

Copyright 1996 by Michael J. Legeros

Originally posted to triangle.movies in MOVIE HELL: June 23, 1996

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