Friday, March 9, 2012

It's Film Strip Friday! The Hunchback of Notre Dame

It’s Film Strip Friday!

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Release Date June 21st, 1996


          At the urging of his hilarious gargoyle pals Victor, Hugo, and Laverne, Quasimodo leaves the solitary safety of his tower, venturing out to find his first true friend, the gypsy beauty Esmerelda. The most unlikely of heroes, Quasi fights to save the people and the city he loves and, in turn, helps us to see people for who they are, rather than how they appear.


The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a 1996 American animated musical-drama film produced by Walt disney Feature Animation and released to theaters on June 21, 1996 by Walt Disney Pictures. The 34th animated feature in the Walt Disney Animated Classic series, the film is loosely based on Victor Hugo's novel of the same name. The plot centers on Quasimodo, the deformed bellringer of Notre Dame and his struggle to gain acceptance into society.

The film is directed by Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale and produced by Don Hahn. The songs for the film were composed by Alan Menken and written by Stephen Schwartz, and the film features the voices of Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Kevin Kline, Paul Kandel, Jason Alexander, Carles Kimbrough, David Ogden Stiers, Tony Jay, and Mary Wicks (in her final film role). It belongs to the era known as Disney Renaissance, which refers to the ten-year era between 1989 and 1999 when the Walt Disney animation Studios returned to making successful animated films, recreating a public and critical interest in the Disney studios. The film received a G rating by the Motion Picture Association of America, and was rated U by the British Board of Film Classification in the UK. Despite these ratings, the film is considered to be one of Disney's darkest animated motion pictures similar to films such as The Black Cauldron.

A direct-to-video sequel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, was released in 2002.


In 1482 Paris, Clopin, a gypsy puppeteer, tells a group of children the story of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Three gypsies sneak illegally into Paris but are ambushed by a group of soldiers working for Judge Claude Frollo, the Minister of Justice. A gypsy woman attempts to flee with her baby, but Frollo chases her and kills her outside Notre Dame, intending to kill her deformed baby, but the Archdeacon appears and accuses him of murdering an innocent woman. To atone for his sin, Frollo agrees to raise the deformed child in the Cathedral as his son, naming him Quasimodo.

Twenty years later, Quasimodo has developed into a kind yet isolated young man with three gargoyles as his only company, told by Frollo that he is a monster who would be rejected by the outside world. Despite these warnings, Quasimodo sneaks out of the Cathedral to attend the Feast of Fools, where he is crowned King of Fools but immediately humiliated by the crowd after Frollo's men start a riot. Frollo refuses to help Quasimodo, but a kind gypsy, Esmeralda, intervenes by freeing the hunchback. Frollo orders her arrested, but she flees using magic. Frollo scolds Quasimodo and sends him back inside the Cathedral.

Esmeralda follows Quasimodo to find him, but is herself followed by Pheobus, Frollo's Captain of the Guard. Phoebus, who himself does not approve of Frollo's methods, refuses to arrest her inside the Cathedral, and Frollo warns Esmeralda that he will capture her the minute she leaves the Cathedral before the Archdeacon tells him to leave. Esmeralda finds Quasimodo in the bell tower and befriends him. As gratitude for helping him in the crowd, Quasimodo helps Esmeralda escape Notre Dame and is presented a map to the gypsy hideout, the Court of Miracles. Frollo begins to realize his lustful feelings for Esmeralda and wishes to be free of them to escape Eternal Damnation. He soon learns of Esmeralda's escape, and orders a city-wide manhunt for her, committing arson. Realizing Frollo is losing his mind, Phoebus defies Frollo, who orders him shot and executed. Phoebus falls into the river, but is rescued by Esmeralda, who takes him to Quasimodo for refuge.

Frollo soon returns to the Cathedral, forcing Quasimodo to hide Phoebus. Knowing Quasimodo helped Esmeralda escape, Frollo bluffs that he knows where the Court of Miracles is and that he intends to attack it at dawn with a battalion. After he leaves, Phoebus requests Quasimodo's help in finding the Court before Frollo. Using the map Esmeralda left, they eventually find the Court and are almost hanged by the gypsies as spies, but are saved when Esmeralda clears up the misunderstanding. However, Frollo has followed Quasimodo and has his army capture everyone.

Frollo orders Esmeralda burned at the stake after she refuses his proposal of her becoming his mistress. Quasimodo, tied up in the bell tower, refuses to help, but decides to rescue Esmeralda upon seeing the gypsy in pain. Phoebus stages a mutiny and a battle ensues between the citizenry and Frollo's soldiers. Quasimodo places Esmeralda's unconscious body on a bed and pours a cauldron of molten copper onto the streets to ensure nobody gets inside. However, Frollo breaks in and force his way past the Archdeacon. Quasimodo, thinking that Esmeralda has died, breaks down beside her body as Frollo comes into the room to kill him. Quasimodo, in his fury, fights back and almost kills Frollo but stops when Esmeralda wakes up. Frollo chases them to the balconies where he and Quasimodo fight. In his rage, Frollo reveals that he killed Quasimodo's mother and knocks him off the balcony, but Quasimodo pulls Frollo down along with him. After a long struggle, both Quasimodo and Frollo fall off the Cathedral, but while Frollo falls to his death, Quasimodo is caught by Phoebus on a lower floor, and the three friends reunite.

As the citizens celebrate their victory over Frollo, Quasimodo reluctantly emerges from the Cathedral to face the populace again, only this time, he is hailed as a hero.


  • Tom Hulce as Quasimodo – The bellringer of the Notre Dame Cathedral. He is physically deformed with a hunched back and is constantly told by his guardian Judge Claude Frollo that he is an ugly monster who will never be accepted by the world outside. However, the opening song asks listeners to judge for themselves "who is the monster, and who is the man" of the two.
  • Demi Moore as Esmeralda (singing voice by Heidi Mollenhauer) – A beautiful, streetwise, talented, and always-barefoot gypsy girl who befriends Quasimodo and shows him that his soul is truly beautiful, even if his exterior is not. She is incredibly independent and greatly dislikes the horrible ways in which gypsies are treated. Throughout the film, Esmeralda attempts to seek justice for her people. She falls in love with Captain Phoebus and helps Quasimodo understand that gypsies are good people. "Esmeralda" is the Spanish and Portuguese word for Emerald, which may be why the animators chose to give her emerald green eyes.
  • Tony Jay as Judge Claude Frollo – A ruthless and self-righteous judge who is Quasimodo's reluctant guardian. He has an intense hatred of the gypsy population, seeing them as "impure" and has a desire to annihilate their entire race. He also lusts after Esmeralda. Frollo generally does not see any evil in his deeds as he does them in honor of God, even though the Archdeacon often disapproves of his actions. However, at one point during the song "Hellfire", the priests singing the Confiteor manifest as his conscience, chanting the Latin words "mea culpa" ("my fault"), to reveal that Frollo ultimately knows the truth of his actions.
  • Kevin Kline as Captain Phoebus – A soldier who is Frollo's Captain of the Guard. He falls in love with (and later marries) Esmeralda. He is a heroic idealist with integrity and does not approve of what Frollo thinks or does. This distinguishes him severely from his character in the original story. He has a horse named Achilles, to whom he says twice "Achilles, sit." on one of Frollo's soldiers.
  • Paul Dandel as Clopin – The mischievous leader of the gypsies who will defend his people at all costs. He introduces the audience to the story, explaining how Quasimodo, the bell ringer from Notre Dame, got to be there.
  • Charles Kimbrough, Jason Alexander and Mary Wicks as Victor, Hugo, and Laverne – Three gargoyle statues who become Quasimodo's close friends and guardians. In the DVD audio commentary for Hunchback, Wise, Trousdale, and Hahn note that the gargoyles might exist only in Quasimodo's imagination (ala Hobbes in Calvin and Hobbes) and thus may well be split-off pieces of his own identity. However, most of their characteristics, including Hugo's infatuation with the goat Djali, seem unique to their manifestations when present. This was Mary Wickes' final film. After Wickes' death, Jane Withers provided the remaining dialogue for Laverne in the film's sequel and related merchandise.
  • David Ogden Stiers as The Archdeacon – A kind man who helps many characters throughout the film, including Esmeralda. He is the opposite of Frollo: kind, accepting, gentle, and wise. He is the only figure in the film with authority over Frollo while he is inside Notre Dame. He appears in the beginning of the movie when he orders Frollo to adopt Quasimodo for killing his mother. He disapproves of most of Frollo's actions, and at the film's climax, Frollo, in his rage, openly defies him and knocks him down a flight of stairs.


According to producer Don Hahn, the original idea for the film came from development executive David Stain, who was inspired to turn Victor Hugo's novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame into an animated feature film after reading the Classics Illustrated comic book adaptation. Stain then proposed the idea to Disney, who called on Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale to work on the project. Wise and Trousdale were working on other projects at the time, but "none of them were quite gelling", so they "jumped at the chance" to do the film. According to Wise, they believed that it had "a great deal of potential...great memorable characters, a really terrific setting, the potential for fantastic visuals, and a lot of emotion."

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is the second Disney animated film directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise after Beauty and the Beast in 1991. The duo had read the novel and were eager to make an adaptation, but made several changes in order to make the storyline more suitable for children. This included making the film's heroes, Quasimodo, Esmeralda, and Phoebus, kinder than in the novel, changing Frollo from Archdeacon to Judge (and creating an original Archdeacon character), adding sidekicks in the form of three anthropomorphized stone gargoyles, and keeping Quasimodo and Esmeralda alive at the end. This ending is perhaps more inspired by Hugo's opera libretto based on his own book, in which Esmeralda is saved by Phoebus at the end of the drama.

The film's animators visited the actual cathedral at Notre Dame in Paris for a few weeks. They made and took hundreds of sketches and photos in order to stay fully faithful to the architecture and detail.

Several of the film's voice actors had been part of past projects Trousdale and Wise attended. For example, Tony Jay and David Ogden Stiers, the voices of Judge Claude Frollo and the Archdeacon, respectively, had previously worked on Beauty and the Beast, providing the voices of Monsieur D'Arque and Cogsworth/the narrator respectively (although their characters did not share any scenes together). Also, paul Kandel, the voice of Clopin, was chosen after the directors saw him playing the role of Uncle Ernie in the opera production of Tommy. Demi Moore was chosen for the role of Esmeralda based on her unusual voice, as the directors wanted a non-traditional voice for the film's leading lady.

Despite the changes from the original literary source material in order to ensure a G rating, the film does manage to address mature issues such as lust, infanticide, sin, profanity, religious hypocrisy, the concept of Hell, Prejudice and Social Injustice, as well as acceptance that Quasi yearns for. Songs also contain rather mature lyrical content such as the words "licentious" or "strumpet" which introduce the concept of sexual indulgence, as well as frequent verbal mentions of Hell. Also notably, it is the first Disney animated film to use the word "damnation".


The film's soundtrack includes a musical score written by alan Menken and songs written by Menken and Stephen Schwartz. Songs include "The Bells of Notre Dame" for Clopin, "Out There" for Quasimodo and Frollo, "Topsy Turvy" also for Clopin, "God Help the Outcasts" for Esmeralda, "Heaven's Light" and "Hellfire" for Quasimodo, the Archdeacon, and Frollo, "A Guy Like You" for the gargoyles and "The Court of Miracles" for Clopin and the gypsies.


The film premiered on June 19, 1996 at the New Orleans Superdome, where it was played on six enormous screens. The premiere was preceeded by a parade through the French Quarter, beginning at Jackson Square and utilizing floats and cast members from Walt Disney World. The film was widely released two days later.


The Hunchback of Notre Dame opened on June 21, 1996 to positive reviews. As of September 2011, Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a positive 73% based on 49 reviews with its consensus stating "Disney's take on the Victor Hugo classic is dramatically uneven, but its strong visuals, dark themes, and message of tolerance make for a more-sophisticated-than-average children's film". Despite this approval rating, Rotten Tomatoes placed it on their list of Kids' Movies Inappropriate for Children. Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert rewarded the film 4 star calling it "the best Disney animated feature since Beauty and the Beast--a whirling, uplifting, thrilling story with a heart touching message that emerges from the comedy and song". Some criticism, however, was provided by fans of Victor Hugo’s novel, who were very unhappy with the changes Disney made to the material. Critics such as Arnaud Later, a leading scholar on Hugo, accused Disney of simplifying, editing and censoring the novel in many aspects, including the personalities of the characters. In his review, Later wrote that the animators "don't have enough confidence in their own emotional feeling" and that the film "falls back on clichés." London's The Daily Mail called The Hunchback of Notre Dame "Disney's darkest picture, with a pervading atmosphere of racial tension, religious bigotry and mob hysteria" and "the best version yet of Hugo's novel, a cartoon masterpiece, and one of the great movie musicals". Janet Maslin wrote in her New York Times review, "In a film that bears conspicuous, eager resemblances to other recent Disney hits, the film makers' Herculean work is overshadowed by a Sisyphean problem. There's just no way to delight children with a feel-good version of this story."

In its opening weekend, the film opened in second place at the box office, grossing $21 million. The film saw small decline in later weeks and ultimately grossed just over $100 million domestically and over $325 million worldwide, making it the fifth highest grossing film of 1996.


  • BMI
    • BMI Film Music Award (Won)
  • Satellite Awards
    • Best Animated or Mixed Media Feature (Won)
  • Oscar
    • Best Original Musical or Comedy score by Alan Menden (Nominated, lost against Emma)
  • Golden Globes
    • Best Original Score (Nominated, lost against The English Patient)
  • Young Artist Award
    • Best Family Feature Film - Animation (Nominated, lost against James and the Giant Peach)
  • Annie Award Tony Jay
    • Outstanding Achievement in Voice Acting – Tony Jay (Nominated)
  • Golden Screen, Germany (Won)
  • Artios Award
    • Best Casting for Animated Voiceover (Won)
  • Golden Raspery Awards
    • Worst Written Film Grossing Over $100 Million (Nominated lost to Twister)

The film currently stands with an 73% "fresh" rating at, with a 60% "fresh" rating by established critics (the "Cream of the Crop").

  • AFI’s Greatest Movie Musicals - Nominated
  • ARI’s 10 Top 10 - Nominated Animated Film

Home video

The Hunchback of Notre Dame was first released on VHS, standard CLV Laserdisc, and special edition CAV Laserdisc on March 4, 1997 under the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection label. It was then re-issued on March 19, 2002 on DVD along with its direct-to-video sequel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II.

Other media


Disney has converted its adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame into other media. For example, Disney Comic Hits #11, published by Marvel Comics, features two stories based upon the film. From 1997 to 2002 Disney-MGM Studios hosted a live-action stage show based on the film and Disneyland built a new theater-in-the-round and re-themed Big Thunder Ranch as Esmeralda's Cottage, Festival of Foods outdoor restaurant and Festival of Fools extravaganza, which is now multipurpose space accommodating private events and corporate picnics.

The film was adapted into a darker, more Gothic musical production, re-written and directed by James Lapine and produced by the Disney theatrical branch, in Berline, Germany. The musical Der Glockner von Notre Dame (translated in English as The Bellringer of Notre Dame) was very successful and played from 1999 to 2002, before closing. A cast recording was also recorded in German. There has been discussion of an American revival of the musical, which was confirmed by composer Alan Menken in November 2010.

Sequels and spin-offs

In 2002, a direct-to-video sequel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, was released on VHS and DVD. The plot focuses once again on Quasimodo as he continues to ring the bells now with the help of Zephyr, Esmeralda and Phoebus's son. He also meets and falls in love with a new girl named Madellaine who has come to Paris with her evil circus master, Sarousch. Disney thought that it was appropriate to make the sequel more fun and child-friendly due to the dark and grim themes of the original film.

Quasimodo, Esmeralda, Victor, Hugo, Laverne and Frollo all made guest appearances on the Disney Channel TV series House of Mouse. Frollo also can be seen amongst a crowd of Disney Villains in Mickey’s House of Villains.

Video games

In 1996, to tie in with the original theatrical release, The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Topsy Turvy Games was released by Disney Interactive for the PC and the Nintendo Game Boy, which is a collection of mini games based around the Festival of Fools that includes a variation of Balloon Flight.

Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu have revealed at the first Square Enix Premier Party that a world based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame, La Cité des Cloches (The City of Bells), will make its debut appearance in the Kingdom Hearts series in the upcoming Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, making it the first new Disney world confirmed for the game. Quasimodo, Esmeralda, Phoebus, Frollo and the three gargoyles have been confirmed to appear so far.

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