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'The Hunchback of Notre Dame'

By
Washington Post Staff Writer

  Recommended


Director:
Kirk Wise;
Gary Trousdale
Cast:
Demi Moore;
Tom Hulce;
Mary Wickes;
Jason Alexander;
Charles Kimbrough;
Kevin Kline;
Tony Jay
Running Time:
1 hour, 45 minutes
G
some disturbing scenes of violence and evil. Think twice before taking little children


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Critics' Corner

Rita Kempley - Style section, "Cuddly enough to become the stuffed favorite of many a little one."

John F. Kelly - Weekend section, "The animation is frequently stunning."

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The action starts with Frollo chasing a family through the streets of Paris. Intent on a bit of ethnic cleansing, he wants to rid the city of Gypsies and is obsessed with finding the Court of Miracles, their secret hiding place. After dashing the mother's head against the steps of Notre Dame, Frollo grabs what he thinks is some stolen loot she's been carrying, discovers it's a malformed baby and moves to throw it down a well, eager to send the "unholy demon back to hell."

A watching priest saves the baby and absolves Frollo -- provided he agrees to be the boy's guardian. Dubbed Quasimodo ("half formed"), the hunchback is locked in the cathedral, destined to become its bell ringer. -- John F. Kelly Directors: Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale Voices: Demi Moore; Tom Hulce; Mary Wickes; Jason Alexander; Charles Kimbrough; Kevin Klinep; Tony Jay Running Time: Filmographies: Demi Moore;Tom Hulce; Jason Alexander; Kevin Kline

Top of This Move Page Disney's Quasi Classic

By Rita Kempley Washington Post Staff Writer June 21, 1996

Quasimodo gets a make-over in Disney's dark creature feature "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." True, nobody was expecting the studio to deliver a monstrosity resembling Lon Chaney's one-eyed grotesque, but this animated "Quasi" is cuddly enough to become the stuffed favorite of many a little one. And luring kiddie consumers to the film's merchandise is increasingly the point of Disney's gorgeous musical cartoons.

Aside from the bell-ringer's new look, the studio's ambitious adaptation of Victor Hugo's sprawling classic remains surprisingly faithful to the book's grim mood, if not its plot. Even the film's new upbeat ending can't quite dilute the poignancy of Hugo's powerful love story, also echoed in the dolorous score of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, who collaborated on the music of Disney's "Pocahontas."

None of their new tunes measures up to "Colors of the Wind." Nor do they inspire the stone statues of martyred saints to step down from their niches and dance. Quasi's sidekicks -- a trio of wisecracking gargoyles -- perform the sole number with Broadway pizazz. Titled "A Guy Like You," the song encourages Quasi (voice by Tom Hulce) in his wrongheaded pursuit of Gypsy dancer Esmeralda (voice by Demi Moore and sung by Heidi Mollenhauer).

Set in 15th-century Paris, the stunningly animated story takes place in and around the city's splendid Gothic cathedral, where Quasi, now 20, has lived since his infancy. Born with scoliosis and a drooping eyelid, the orphaned bell-ringer yearns to be part of the lively street scene below, but his villainous guardian, Judge Frollo (voice by Tony Jay), forbids it.

The gargoyles easily talk the innocent man-child into slipping out for the "Feast of Fools," an annual pageant presided over by the winner of the ugliest-disguise contest. His face mistaken for a mask, Quasi is crowned "King of the Fools." When the crowd realizes that's no funny face, they begin to spit on and beat the poor thing. Esmeralda, as compassionate as she is courageous, enrages Frollo when she comes to Quasi's defense and vanishes in a puff of smoke. Phoebus (voice by Kevin Kline), the hunky new captain of the guard, allows Esmeralda to take sanctuary in the cathedral. But she cannot bear the confinement, and Quasi, his head swimming with love for Esmeralda, helps her escape and rejoin her people.

Frollo orders Phoebus, also smitten by Esmeralda, to capture her. A medieval fascist long determined to cleanse Paris of the Gypsy menace, Frollo is more operatic in stature than the average Disney De Vil. He is also tormented by his lust for the sultry heroine. The song commemorating his mixed-up state of mind is "Hellfire," in which he blames her for bewitching him.

Hell and damnation may seem unlikely subjects for Disney movies, but the studio has tackled scary subjects ever since the cackling witch fed her stepdaughter, Snow White, a poison apple. As most fairy tales do, this brooding yarn may spark nightmares for children as well as questions about intolerance for both children and their parents. Alas, "The Hunchback's" message -- that beauty is only skin deep -- goes only so far. Quasi, who gives his blessing to Esmeralda and Phoebus, knows there's really no need to ask for whom the belle tolls. It's never the toad.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is rated G.

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Top of This Movie Page 'Hunchback': Split Personality

By John F. Kelly Washington Post Staff Writer June 21, 1996

"The Hunchback of Notre Dame" is the first Disney cartoon my kids didn't want to see again but I did. That may say something about the strengths and weaknesses of Mickey Mouse's 34th full-length animated feature.

Even though it's been sanitized -- the evil Claude Frollo is a judge not a dishonored priest, there aren't as many stabbings and betrayals, Gypsy girl Esmeralda doesn't swing from the gallows -- Victor Hugo's story is too strong to be entirely Disneyfied.

The action starts with Frollo chasing a family through the streets of Paris. Intent on a bit of ethnic cleansing, he wants to rid the city of Gypsies and is obsessed with finding the Court of Miracles, their secret hiding place. After dashing the mother's head against the steps of Notre Dame, Frollo grabs what he thinks is some stolen loot she's been carrying, discovers it's a malformed baby and moves to throw it down a well, eager to send the "unholy demon back to hell."

This was the first time my 5-year-old daughter sobbed against my shoulder.

A watching priest saves the baby and absolves Frollo -- provided he agrees to be the boy's guardian. Dubbed Quasimodo ("half formed"), the hunchback is locked in the cathedral, destined to become its bell ringer. Fast forward 20 years and "Quasi" is looking down on the cathedral's square, eager to join the festivities of the Festival of Fools. Egged on by a trio of gargoyle pals (including "Seinfeld's" Jason Alexander) and defying Frollo, he descends from the bell tower, is plucked from the crowd by Gypsy dancer Esmeralda and is crowned the King of Fools. Great merriment ensues. But when Quasimodo is unmasked as a real hunchback, the crowd ties him down and tortures him.

This was the second time my 5-year-old sobbed against my shoulder.

And so it goes for the rest of the film: Disney-style antics interspersed with seriously disturbing scenes. None of this makes "Hunchback" a bad movie, it just makes it a movie to avoid if you have little kids -- say, anyone under 8 (who, of course, are the ones most susceptible to the lure of a "Hunchback" backpack or Esmeralda tambourine).

In fact, I enjoyed "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." Esmeralda (voiced by Demi Moore) is drawn with more curves and beguiling shadows than you'll find in the typical Disney heroine. She's the sexiest cartoon character since Jessica Rabbit, and you can practically smell the wood smoke and musk when she's onscreen. It's no surprise that Frollo (Tony Jay) and Phoebus, the captain of the guard (Kevin Kline), fall in, respectively, lust and love with her.

Quasimodo (Tom Hulce) is ugly in a cute sort of way, resembling a young Karl Malden just after dental surgery. The animation is frequently stunning, showcasing a new process whereby crowds seem to pulsate with movement. The walls of molten lead that pour from the top of the cathedral as the climax approaches are especially beautiful.

The songs (by Disney veteran Alan Menken and "Pocahontas" lyricist Stephen Schwartz) aren't as memorable as those in "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty & the Beast," but they do the job of advancing the story, even if they do shade over into Mel Brooks territory occasionally. (In one number the gargoyles try to convince Quasimodo that Esmeralda could love him: "We all have gaped at some Adonis/ But then we crave a meal more nourishing to chew/ And since you're shaped like a croissant is/ No question of she's gotta love a guy like you!")

What this grown-up found so difficult was trying to reconcile the movie's different elements -- funny animal sidekick with Madonna/whore imagery, Apostle statues snapping their fingers chorus-line style with Quasimodo's look of terror as the peasant crowd turns ugly. Difficult, of course, can also mean interesting. It's just that children may find it confusing.

Disney has created a movie that, like Quasimodo himself, is half formed.

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (G) -- Contains some disturbing scenes of violence and evil. Think twice before taking little children.

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