Disney Marathon: ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’

Having arrived at the tail end of the Disney Renaissance, this movie was skipped over by me on release. At that point the Disney Animation studios were desperately chasing a Best Picture Oscar by making increasingly earnest Big Important Movies. Although Pocahontas was the most brazen of these attempts, Hunchback was in the same ballpark.

For those just joining us, this is a movie marathon with a twist. Myself (cranky 40 year old blogger), my son Josh (10 year old Nintendo obsessive) and my daughter Amelia (drama llama 8 year old princess) are watching Disney movies in a random order and ranking them. We hope to see interesting differences in how we organise our lists.

Film: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Released: 1996

Director: Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise

Cast: Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Tony Jay, Kevin Kline, Paul Kandel, Charles Kimbrough, Jason Alexander, Mary Wickes, Mary Kay Bergman

Plot: A misshapen man is kept isolated in the bell towers of Notre Dame Cathedral during the 15th century. He becomes drawn in political and social turmoil involving his guardian Judge Frollo, Gypsy performer Esmeralda and captain and of the guard Phoebus.

Review: Since this movie was released it has been mired in controversy and derision. Taking on a dark, very adult orientated story involving torture, genocide and the Catholic church cast as villains seemed like a choice that jarred the Disney style of animation. The first thing that people note is the happier ending. The original Victor Hugo novel describes Quasimodo murdering Archdeacon Frollo, Esmeralda being hanged and Quasimodo clutching to her corpse in a mass grave until dying himself…not something that will sit well with family audiences. Disney may have over-corrected though, as Frollo falls of his own violation and Quasimodo is carried away on the shoulders of the Parisians.

Although it’s the most glaring change in the adaptation is the ending, major themes and story beats are dulled to the point of confusion by Disney. This could be the ultimate example of design-by-committee, because rather than having anything real to say The Hunchback of Notre Dame tries to appeal to every marketable group imaginable. It pendulums between whacky cartoon antics to dramatic social upheaval, operatic declarations and bouncy action scenes. We get Frollo (Jay) threatening rape on Esmeralda (Moore) in the same scene as an animated gargoyle doing Jason Alexander’s comedy schtick. It doesn’t need to be pointed out that these two things don’t go well together.

This is a movie that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Frollo is changed from an Archdeacon to a judge to avoid controversy with a negative depiction of church leaders, but someone managed to draw him in religious looking garments anyway. Themes of racism and marginalised communities are brought to the forefront, but Gypsies are portrayed as con-men, grifters, thieves and tricksters. The only member of the group portrayed in a positive manner is the hyper-sexualised Esmeralda. Even title character Quasimodo (Hulce) is not portrayed as deaf in this version…no big impact on the story, but another example of the novel’s sharp edges being carefully rounded down let someone be offended. Literary nerds don’t count.

Three solid paragraphs complaining about the misguided approach to adapting the story for families…does this aspect of the film actually matter? It could be perceived as its own thing inspired by a classic for a modern audience. It will always feel disingenuous when they stray this far from the message and theme in the pursuit of creating a marketable product. It leaves a bad taste. That, and this is the version that appears first when you google the title. The original novel comes second. It’s naive to say that Disney doesn’t have a cultural impact, even when it comes to the perception of historical figures. Looking at you, Pocahontas.

Stepping away from the weird version of the story and the process of adapting it, this is a stunning looking movie. The 1990s were peak Disney Animation, and this could well be to the best looking entry. The landscapes and architecture provides some serious eye-candy. Shots tracking through the bell towers with the dawn light peering around the swinging bells is genuinely fantastic. There’s a rich colour scheme with the browns and greys of the city set against the bright primary coloured costumes of the Gypsies.

Unfortunately the experiments in computer graphics hasn’t all aged especially well. Some of the crowd shots appear to be populated by the characters in the background of Street Fighter 2 levels.

On par with the animation and visuals is the voice talent. Tony Jay and Tom Hulce are in the lead roles of Frollo and Quasimodo and both bring an impassioned performance to the film. In spite of the bombastic and powerful score many of the songs sink into the back of your mind and quickly fade away. I can’t tell you a single line from the song sung by the gargoyles, or hazard a guess of what it is called. Numbers performed by Jay and Hulce are exceptional though, with the ‘Heaven’s Light/Hellfire’ combo hitting especially well and giving us the one genuinely powerful moment of the film.

It took me a while to get round to seeing this movie. I needed have worried. Jason Alexander is a gargoyle who fetishises a goat.

Best Song: Sing it with me now…

Coolest Easter Egg: During the ‘Out There’ song number you can spot Beauty and the Beasts Belle walking the streets of Paris with her nose in a book. On this viewing I also spotted a peasant shaking out the flying carpet from Aladdin. I’ve also heard that Pumba is on a spit in this shot but I didn’t see him.

Weirdest Trivia: It has been claimed, but not confirmed, that Esmeralda’s sexuality was a bit much for the MPAA. They insisted that Esmeralda’s fire appearance in Frollo’s fire needed better defined clothes lest she appear nude.

Rating: THREE out of TEN



As much as I love the animation, I can’t imagine watching this again. I’m just going to look up the ‘Hellfire’ sequence on Youtube.

Click those titles if you want to see what we said about the other movies.

  1. Zootopia
  2. Robin Hood
  3. Aladdin
  4. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  5. The Lion King
  6. Wreck-It Ralph
  7. Alice in Wonderland
  8. Beauty and the Beast
  9. Moana
  10. Big Hero 6
  11. Lilo & Stitch
  12. The Great Mouse Detective
  13. The Little Mermaid
  14. Frozen
  15. Tangled
  16. The Sword in the Stone
  17. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  18. Enchanted
  19. Mulan
  20. Raya and the Last Dragon
  21. Cinderella
  22. Emperor’s New Groove
  23. Fantasia
  24. Ralph Breaks the Internet
  25. The Three Caballeros
  26. The Jungle Book
  27. Fun and Fancy Free
  28. Sleeping Beauty
  29. The Princess and the Frog
  30. Hercules
  31. The Rescuers
  32. Oliver & Company
  33. The Aristocats
  34. Saludos Amigos
  35. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  36. Home on the Range
  37. Bolt
  38. Dinosaur
  39. The Fox and the Hound
  40. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
  41. Pocahontas
  42. A Goofy Movie
  43. Tarzan
  44. Fantasia 2000
  45. Treasure Planet
  46. Meet the Robinsons
  47. The Wild
  48. Chicken Little


Amelia used to enjoy this one but didn’t like it so much this time. She does think the goat is the goat.

  1. Raya and the Last Dragon
  2. Frozen
  3. Moana
  4. Tangled
  5. The Little Mermaid
  6. The Rescuers
  7. Emperor’s New Groove
  8. Zootopia
  9. Lilo & Stitch
  10. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
  11. The Great Mouse Detective
  12. Home on the Range
  13. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  14. Mulan
  15. Hercules
  16. Alice in Wonderland
  17. Cinderella
  18. Wreck-It Ralph
  19. Bolt
  20. Pocahontas
  21. Enchanted
  22. Dinosaur
  23. The Aristocats
  24. The Princess and the Frog
  25. Robin Hood
  26. The Jungle Book
  27. Fantasia 2000
  28. The Lion King
  29. Beauty and the Beast
  30. The Three Caballeros
  31. The Fox and the Hound
  32. The Sword in the Stone
  33. Saludos Amigos
  34. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  35. Tarzan
  36. Oliver & Company
  37. Aladdin
  38. Treasure Planet
  39. Big Hero 6
  40. Fun and Fancy Free
  41. Sleeping Beauty
  42. A Goofy Movie
  43. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  44. Meet the Robinsons
  45. Chicken Little
  46. Fantasia


  1. Zootopia
  2. Big Hero 6
  3. Raya and the Last Dragon
  4. Aladdin
  5. Emperor’s New Groove
  6. Treasure Planet
  7. Moana
  8. Ralph Breaks the Internet
  9. The Three Caballeros
  10. Saludos Amigos
  11. Wreck-It Ralph
  12. The Rescuers
  13. Frozen
  14. Mulan
  15. The Princess and the Frog
  16. The Lion King
  17. Lilo & Stitch
  18. The Jungle Book
  19. Robin Hood
  20. Bolt
  21. The Sword in the Stone
  22. Beauty and the Beast
  23. Oliver & Company
  24. Sleeping Beauty
  25. Tangled
  26. The Great Mouse Detective
  27. Cinderella
  28. The Little Mermaid
  29. Meet The Robinsons
  30. Enchanted
  31. The Hunchback Of Notre Dame
  32. Home on the Range
  33. Pocahontas
  34. A Goofy Movie
  35. The Aristocats
  36. Fantasia
  37. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  38. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
  39. Fun and Fancy Free
  40. The Fox and the Hound
  41. Fantasia 2000
  42. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  43. Dinosaur
  44. Hercules
  45. Tarzan
  46. Alice in Wonderland
  47. The Wild
  48. Chicken Little