When people talk about Disney’s back catalog of animated feature films, most think of the films like ‘Peter Pan’, ‘Aladdin’, and ‘The Lion King’. But for every great, and critically renowned film the animation division releases, it seems there’s always two or three that fall by the wayside, never quite getting the following that they deserve out the gate. But over time, many of them gain a following, and one that seems to finally getting appreciation is the severely underrated film, ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame‘, Walt Disney Animation’s 34th animated feature.
The film features some of the studio’s best animated work, featuring some incredibly beautiful and majestic art that is nothing short of breathtaking, as well as some of Disney’s most sweeping music, and an all star cast, ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ proves that Walt Disney Animation is still the best at what they do. Its movies like this that always deserve some of the best treatment, and its good to see that Disney has given ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ done just that.
‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’, which is loosely based on Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel of the same name, follows the film’s namesake, Quasimodo , who starts life as an deformed child. He’s confined to the bell tower of the Notre Dame Cathedral, where he spends his entire life, believing he should hide from the world, thanks to how he was raised by the Master of Justice Frollo (Tony Jay). When Quasimodo finally steps outside the walls of the Cathedral, his life is changed forever. When a gypsy named Esmerelda (Demi Moore) befriends him, it starts to break down the walls of his world, and it begins to show Quasi that the man he once to be a saint may be more of a cruel and terrible person. As revolt and unrest begin stirring in Paris, Quasi is forced to look at his life and make the ultimate decision between the man who raised him, or the woman he loves.
One of the things about ‘The Hunchback’ that is most striking is the fact that the film is one of Disney Animation’s darkest, and more serious, films. While the movie features some silly moments, and has comic relief from Quasi’s gargoyle friends Hugo, Victor, and Laverne, but those things barely mask how serious the film is underneath. The film takes a very serious look at Frollo, a man whose darkness inside him is one of a self-righteousness, going insane with power. The way he acts has hurt Quasimodo, going so far that Quasi actually questions himself, and he can barely even see himself as a hero. It’s a perfect film in a way, for these reasons alone, because Quasi’s quest for acceptance in the film is one that kids will quickly lean towards, because it’s something they are still dealing with growing up. While kids connect with that, parents will get a whole other level of story and themes, ones dealing with idea of hypocrisy, betrayal, sin, and love. It’s a very layered film, and that’s part of what makes it so wonderful. Family films don’t typical touch topics like this, which makes it a gutsy and bold move for Disney. But the film fires on so many cylinders that most won’t notice, or won’t be bothered by it. The film also features some excellent music by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. Menken is one of the best in the business, making some of the best music for many of Disney’s films during the company’s renaissance. The music in the film is so good, it ranks right behind ‘The Lion King’, which is considered by most to be the best music in a Disney film in the 90’s, only next to ‘Aladdin’. But ‘Hunchback’ has a beautifully sweeping score, and some absolutely incredible music that you’ll find yourself humming later. One of the best songs in the film is sung by Esmerelda and is titled ‘God Help the Outcasts’. It’s a softer, more tamed ballad, but its one that sticks with you, and its hard not to forget.
Disney’s blu-ray release of ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ is a very well put together disc. The film is a double pack, and is packaged with its sequel, ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame II’, not one of the finest hours when it comes to Disney’s animated sequels. The film clocks at just over an hour, and it’s a bit of a mess, completely changing the tone and style of the film, turning it into more of a heist film. Kids will probably enjoy it, but it didn’t really click with me as some of the other sequels have. The video quality of both films is actually quite good, with the first faring much better, since its the theatrical release. The animation looks absolutely stunning now in high definition. It looks so crisp, clean, and viivd, just one stellar transfer. The second film has a very good transfer as well, but the film’s much lower budget becomes apparent in high definition. The animation isn’t nearly as slick, and the flaws show. The colors definitely pop even better, and its definitely a step up from the DVD version that we had before. The video transfer alone makes makes this disc worth a pick up, but the audio quality is where the disc really pops. Disney has put a very strong DTS-HD surround sound mix together, one that is sure to give any home theater a workout. One of the best scenes in the film, Frollo’s ‘Hellfire’ scene, is one in particular part that really stands out. The film’s sound mix is absolutely one to behold, and it’s the best the movies have ever sounded. The technical merits of the film really stand out, making this one of Disney’s best discs to date.
But that isn’t all that the disc has. Disney has provided us with a tiny list of special features, and while there isn’t much, what is offered here is very good. The commentary track with producer Don Hahn and the directors of the film, Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, is really quite good and enlightening. It’s the best special feature on the entire disc, and anyone who is a fan of the film should definitely give it a listen. The disc also features a half hour making of featurette, a three minute multi-language reel that shows off “A Guy Like You” in different languages from around the world, and two very brief featurettes for the second film. Its nothing groundbreaking, but the supplements are welcome, adding to an already excellent release.
‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ is one of the best films of Disney Animation’s rennisance period in the 90’s. It’s taken the film a little while to finally find a following, but it’s good to see it finally getting one at all. Featuring an excellent cast, stellar animation, and absolutely wonderful music, the film is one that shouldn’t be missed. This blu-ray release is no different. The film has never looked and sounded better, and with a small selection of special features, it’s definitely a disc that belongs on the shelf of any Disney fan. This release couldn’t have come at a better time, and comes highly recommended.
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