The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a 1996 American animated musical drama comedy film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and released to theaters on June 21, 1996 by Walt Disney Pictures. The thirty-fourth animated feature in the Disney Animated Canon, the film is loosely based on Victor Hugo's novel of the same name, but changes most of its substance. The plot centers on Esmeralda, the Gypsy dancer, Claude Frollo, a powerful and ruthless Minister of Justice who lusts after her, Quasimodo, the protagonist, Notre Dame's kindhearted but deformed bell-ringer, who adores her, and Phoebus, the chivalrous if irreverent military captain, who holds affections for her.
The film was directed by Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, directors of Beauty and the Beast, and produced by Don Hahn, producer of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. The songs for the musical film were composed by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, and the film featured the voices of Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Kevin Kline, Paul Kandel, Jason Alexander, Charles Kimbrough, David Ogden Stiers, Tony Jay, and Mary Wickes (in her final film role). It belongs to the era known as Disney Renaissance. A direct-to-video sequel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, was released in 2002.
While the film has a large fanbase that to this day continues to adore the film, it's infamously hated for its use of broad humor in a story with sensitive subject matter. Ironically, the film was looked down upon by parents for the use of such dark material in a kids movie. Due to both situations, the Disney company is reluctant to exploit the film, making it something of a commercial disappointment.
The movie opens in 1482 Paris with Clopin, a gypsy puppeteer, telling a group of children the story of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. The story begins as three gypsies sneak illegally into Paris but are ambushed by a squadron of soldier-like thugs working for Judge Claude Frollo, the Minister of Justice and de facto ruler of Paris. A gypsy woman attempts to flee with her baby, but Frollo catches and kills her just outside Notre Dame, intending to kill her deformed baby (Frollo says to the Archdeacon that the baby is "an unholy demon" and that he is "sending it back to hell where it belongs"), but the Archdeacon appears and accuses him of murdering an innocent woman. Frollo denies that he is in the wrong saying his conscience is clear, but the Archdeacon declares he can lie to himself all he wants, but he cannot hide his crime from heaven ('the eyes of Notre Dame', the statues of the saints outside the cathedral). Fearing for his soul and to atone for his sin, Frollo reluctantly 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, constantly told by Frollo that he is a monster who would be rejected by the uncaring 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 when Frollo's thugs start a riot. Frollo, in the audience, refuses to help Quasimodo, and the crowd only stops when a kind and beautiful gypsy Esmeralda frees Quasimodo from his restraints and openly defies Frollo. She then throws the crown at Frollo, deeming him to be the biggest fool. The judge orders her arrested, but she escapes by means of illusions, which Frollo calls "witchcraft." Frollo scolds Quasimodo and sends him back inside the Cathedral.
Esmeralda follows Quasimodo to find him, but she herself is followed by Phoebus, Frollo's Captain of the Guard. Phoebus, who himself does not approve of Frollo's methods, refuses to arrest her inside the Cathedral, saying that she has claimed 'Sanctuary' and thus cannot be arrested as long as she remains in Notre Dame. Frollo finally leaves when the Archdeacon orders him out, but not before warning Esmeralda that his men will capture her the minute she leaves the Cathedral. Esmeralda finds Quasimodo in the bell tower and befriends him. As gratitude for helping him in the crowd, Quasimodo helps Esmeralda escape Notre Dame. In return, she leaves him with a map to the gypsy hideout, the Court of Miracles, should he ever choose to leave Notre Dame again. Frollo himself 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, burning down houses in his path. Realizing that Frollo has lost his mind, Phoebus defies the judge, who orders him executed for treason, but is aided in escape by Esmeralda. After being hit by an arrow, 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. Finding out that Quasimodo helped Esmeralda escape, the judge 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 find it and are almost hanged by Clopin as spies, but are saved when Esmeralda intervenes and clears up the misunderstanding. However, Frollo's army appears and captures them all, with the judge revealing that he followed Phoebus and Quasimodo.
Frollo then orders Esmeralda burned at the stake after she refuses his proposal of her becoming his mistress. Quasimodo, chained up in the bell tower, initially refuses to help under depression, but when he sees Esmeralda in pain, he gives in to his anger and rescues her, bringing her to the cathedral and yelling "Sanctuary." As Frollo grabs a sword and orders his men to attack the cathedral, Phoebus ignites a mutiny among the people of Paris who have had enough of Frollo's tyranny and a battle ensues in the street between the citizenry and Frollo's thug army. Quasimodo places Esmeralda's unconscious body on a bed and pours a cauldron of molten copper onto the streets to ensure nobody gets inside. Frollo, however, manages to break in and force his way past the Archdeacon. Quasimodo, believing Esmeralda to be dead, breaks down beside her body as Frollo comes into the room to kill him with a dagger. Quasimodo, in his fury, disarms his former guardian and finally rejects all that Frollo had taught him. Esmeralda wakes up and Quasimodo grabs her and flees. The deranged judge chases them on to the balcony, where he attacks Quasimodo and Esmeralda with his sword. The battle ends with Frollo maniacally quoting the Bible and both him and Quasimodo falling of the balcony. After Frollo falls to his death, Quasimodo also falls, but 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.
Differences from the original
- In the book, Quasimodo was deaf and had unintelligible speech; in the film, he was not deaf and quite capable of fluent speech.
- In the film, Esmeralda was confirmed a gypsy. In the book, she was not born a gypsy and was born to a recluse.
- In the film, Esmeralda saves Quasimodo and Phoebus from being hanged in the Court of Miracles. In the book, she saves a man named Pierre Gringoire.
- In the book, Phoebus was an untrustworthy womanizer. He was much kinder and friendlier to Quasimodo and Esmeralda in the film.
- In the book, Esmeralda was 16 years old. In the film she appears to be much older, she's perhaps in her late twenties or early thirties.
- In the book, Frollo successfully killed Esmeralda. In the film, Quasimodo rescues her from being burned at the stake.
- In the novel, Quasimodo committed suicide after Esmeralda and Frollo died. He found Esmeralda's dead body, and clutched it until he starved to death.
- In the film, Frollo was a judge, was archenemies with the archdeacon, was racist, and named Quasimodo after his disfigurement. In the book, Frollo was the archdeacon, had more sympathy and compassion, and named Quasimodo after Quasimodo Sunday.
- In the book, Esmeralda was sentenced to be hanged. In the film, she was nearly burned at the stake.
- The talking gargoyles do not appear in the book.
- Gringoire, Fleur-de-Lys, Paquette and Jehan Frollo do not appear in the movie.
- In the book, Frollo was thrown off the cathedral by Quasimodo after Esmeralda's death. In the film, the gargoyle on which he was standing broke, and he fell into the pit of molten lead (that Quasi and the gargoyles poured earlier) while trying to murder both Quasimodo and Esmeralda.
- In the book, Phoebus tried to seduce Esmeralda, was stabbed by Frollo (who framed Esmeralda for it), but survived, and instead of claiming Esmeralda's innocence, he married a woman named Fleur-de-Lys. In the film, he truly loved Esmeralda, and later marries her in the sequel, having a son with her.
- In the book, Esmeralda does not like Quasimodo instantly.
- In the book, Frollo tried to rape Esmeralda when she hides in the bell tower, but Quasimodo picks Frollo, and slammed him against the wall. While in the movie this isn't stated outright (being a family film), there are several noticeable hints that Frollo lusts for Esmeralda and that the only thing that keeps him from acting on that lust is his nature as a religious fundamentalist.
- In the book, Quasimodo gave Esmeralda a high pitched whistle, the few things that Quasimodo can hear; this does not appear in the film.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame was the second Disney film directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise after the hugely successful Beauty and the Beast in 1991. The duo had read Victor Hugo's 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 corrupt minister (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 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, profanity, religious hypocrisy, the concept of Hell, prejudice, social injustice, and homosexuality. 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 animated Disney film to use the word "damnation".
Cast and characters
- Quasimodo (voiced by Tom Hulce) – The protagonist of the film. He is courageous, kindly, and enthusiastic. He is 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.
- Esmeralda (voiced by Demi Moore, singing voice by Heidi Mollenhauer) – The deuteragonist of the film. A beautiful, sexy, streetwise, talented, and always-barefoot gypsy girl who befriends Quasimodo and shows him that his soul is truly beautiful, even if his exterior isn't. She is incredibly independent and greatly dislikes the horrible ways in which gypsies are treated. Throughout the movie, 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.
- Judge Claude Frollo (voiced by Tony Jay) – A ruthless and powerful judge who is Quasimodo's reluctant guardian. He is the main antagonist of the film. He also lusts after Esmeralda for which he feels shame, but is willing to kill her if she rejects him. 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, which would make him more of an anti-hero than a villain. 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.
- Captain Phoebus (voiced by Kevin Kline) – A soldier who is Frollo's Captain of the Guard and the tritagonist of the film. 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.
- Clopin (voiced by Paul Kandel) – 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.
- Hugo, Victor, and Laverne (voiced by Jason Alexander, Charles Kimbrough, and Mary Wickes, respectively) – 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 and thus may well be split-off pieces of his own identity.
- The Archdeacon (voiced by David Ogden Stiers) – A kind man who helps many characters throughout the course of the movie, 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.
- Animation supervisors:
- Art director: David Goetz
- Story supervisor: Will Finn
- Layout supervisor: Ed Ghertner
- Background supervisor: Lisa Keene
- Clean-up animation supervisor: Vera Pacheco
- Effects animation supervisor: Christopher Jenkins
- Computer graphics supervisor: Kiran Bhakta Joshi
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" for Quasimodo, "Hellfire" for Frollo, "A Guy Like You" for the gargoyles and "The Court of Miracles" for Clopin and the gypsies.
Three songs written for the film were discarded during the storyboarding process and not used: "In a Place of Miracles", "As Long As There's a Moon", and "Someday ", a candidate to replace "God Help the Outcasts". Though not included in the body of the film, "Someday" is heard over the end credits, performed by R&B group All-4-One in the North American English release, and Eternal in the British English version. Luis Miguel recorded the version for the Latin American Spanish version, which became a major hit in Mexico.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame opened on June 21, 1996 to positive reviews. 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". Although not very commercial, it is very popular, and unfortunately has been considered by many blogs, websites, and critics as one of the weaker Disney films.
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. Although the film could not out-gross its predecessors, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King and Pocahontas it nevertheless out-grossed other Disney films released within a decade of its premiere, such as The Little Mermaid, and Hercules. Today, it has been considered much too dark and oddly placed within the Disney Crown, there being little whimsy in the film. However, like Bambi, Pinocchio and Fantasia, even the most serious and frightening films have been able to find its way to being a monumental Disney success, so it may be only a matter of time.
- BMI Film Music Award (Won)
- Satellite Awards
- Oscar 
- Golden Globes
- Young Artist Award 
- Best Family Feature Film - Animation (Nominated, lost against James and the Giant Peach)
The film currently stands with an 73% "fresh" rating at Rottentomatoes.com, with a 60% "fresh" rating by established critics (the "Cream of the Crop"). It is also notably the first, and so far only, animated Disney film to be nominated a Golden Raspberry Award, in which it was nominated for "Worst Screenplay."
- Belle, Magic Carpet, and Pumbaa appear during the song "Out There".
- When Esmeralda is looking at Quasimodo's model of Paris, she notices a sculpture of the town baker - the same baker who appears in Beauty and the Beast.
- Main article: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (video)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame was first issued 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 and VHS, along with its direct-to-video sequel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II. A Blu-ray version of the film was released on March 12, 2013 along with Mulan, and Brother Bear.
Disney Comic Hits #11, published by Marvel Comics, features two stories based upon the film.
Disney-MGM Studios had a stage show based on the film from 1996 to 2002. It was located in The Backlot Theatre in the New York Street section of the theme park (now called Streets of America). After the show's closing, and part of the re-theming of the area, a mural of a San Francisco street went up to block off the view of the theatre's vacant interior. Recently, The Backlot Theatre underwent a major renovation to enclose it. No new attraction for the location has been announced, although it is often used during special events.
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 Berlin, Germany. The musical Der Glöckner 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.
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 Pheobus'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.
Quasimodo, Esmeralda, Victor, Hugo, Laverne and Frollo all made guest appearances on the Disney Channel TV series House of Mouse. Frollo also be can seen amongst a crowd of Disney Villains in Mickey's House of Villains.
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 Fight.
A world based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame, La Cité des Cloches (The City of Bells), made its debut appearance in the Kingdom Hearts series in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. It was the first new Disney world confirmed for the game. All of the main characters except Clopin and the Archdeacon appear.
- Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz also worked on the music for Pocahontas.
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame was the first Disney animated film to contain a production budget around $100 million dollars at the time, so in theory, it was the most expensive Disney animated film, until Tarzan three years later.
- Belle also makes a cameo appearance in the film. During the song Out There, Belle is seen walking through the streets reading her book, which would make some believe that both films take place at the same time. However, this is clearly impossible, based on the fashions, technology and politics seen in Beauty and the Beast, which placed her film in the latter half of the 18th century, pre-revolutionary (pre-1789) France. Glen Keane confirmed that Belle's cameo in the film was not canonical. However, both time periods are similar in the fact that married women were viewed not as equal human beings under God (and the law of today), but as personal property and as obedient, servile slaves to their husbands that (in some extreme cases) can be bought and sold like any purchase (Gaston's behavior towards Belle and all women in his village is a testament to this, and Claude Frollo exudes a similar treatment to Esmeralda in the film as well).
- This is by far the only Disney animated film that does not feature any trees.
- According to the song "Topsy Turvy," the story takes place during and after the 6th of January. However, there is no sign in the atmosphere that it is winter with the exception of the opening sequence.
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