(The Disneycember logo is shown, before showing clips from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. An instrumental version of "The Bells of Notre Dame", as well as other snippets of the score by Alan Menken, play in the background)
Doug (vo): Well, if Disney really wanted to bounce back from some of the disappointment brought by Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame was probably not the best way to go. A story that’s well known and famously dark and twisted as Hunchback is probably not the best way to get a general audience coming back to you. But I’m sure by the time Pocahontas was done, Hunchback was already half-done and you just have to go with what you got. And for what they got, honestly, I really love this one. But that’s a personal preference. To be very straightforward, the film does, in fact, have a lot of flaws, as you would probably assume it would. Hunchback is probably the last movie you would want to tell as a Disney family film. The original story by Victor Hugo was about the corruption of church and the overuse of power that it had. Here, it’s mostly told as an Ugly Duckling story, and while that’s done well, there’s several parts that you feel were kind of forced.
[The film's main comic relief, the three gargoyles, are shown briefly]
Hugo: [singing] A guy like you!
Doug (vo): Oh, God, we’ll get to them in a minute. No, let’s start with the story as it is. In many respects, it’s pretty similar to the book.
Doug (vo): A deformed hunchback lives in the bell tower of Notre Dame. He’s looked after by a man named Frollo. In this version, he’s portrayed as a judge. In the original, he was a priest. The hunchback, named Quasimodo, just wants to go out into the streets and be accepted like anyone else. And during the Festival of Fools, which is a celebration of the gypsies, he gets his chance, and not only is he accepted, but he’s actually celebrated. People love how strange he looks and start having fun with him. Now, in the original, he accidentally commits some sort of crime and is then punished for it, to which the gypsy Esmeralda pops up and tries to give him water. In this version, he doesn’t commit a crime; the crowd just suddenly turns on him, pretty sporadically, actually, to which, again, Esmeralda goes up to save him. But it turns out Frollo has the hots for her and wants to do everything in his power to get her. Again, in the original, she’s accused of a crime. Here, she’s accused of witchcraft, which is really nothing more than her parlor tricks. So, between Frollo wanting her, Quasimodo wanting her and, hey, did I mention there’s a third guy named Phoebus who also is wanting her? It’s a pretty complicated love...square. Many other elements of the original story’s there, like Quasimodo saving her, shouting “Sanctuary!”, people trying to break into Notre Dame, but it’s sort of told out of order. It works here, though, and it gives us all the famous scenes that we love to watch.
Doug (vo): So where does Hunchback fall flat? Well, I don’t want to say fall flat, but there are times during the story where it feels a little forced, like the animators really wanted to tell certain parts of the story, but then other times, they put it in because they probably got a lot of notes about it. For example, the romance between Esmeralda and Phoebus is not very interesting. They just sort of crack one-liners at each other. But, to be fair, they do set aside time in the story for them to fall in love, it's not like they just meet and, boom. They’re together. Also, the explanation of the gypsies, especially for a kid, I think is really complicated. If you have no idea what a gypsy is, this would probably confuse you more. They’re said to be all thieves, and yet, there’s a festival celebrating them. Frollo vows to destroy them all, and yet, he shows up to the festival*. Esmeralda says that they’re not all really thieves, but then, they find their giant fortress where they stole all their shit. I guess you could argue that sort of shows the complications of the gypsy culture, but I don’t know. I think it just confused kids more.
- (Note: It's explained in the movie that Frollo attends the festival every year because he's a public official, so he must go)
[The three gargoyles are shown again; they continue to be seen in various other clips]
Doug (vo): Yeah, okay, let’s talk about the gargoyles. God, I frigging hate these things. #1: How dare you make Jason Alexander not funny? Shame on you. #2: The moral of the story is not to judge people by how they look, and yet, that’s constantly what they’re doing!
Hugo: I thought I was the cute one.
Larvene: No, you're the fat, stupid one with the big mouth!
Doug (vo): Again, bit of a mixed message*.
- (Note: Actually, contrary to what Doug said, that scene was the only time where the gargoyles judged how they look and they also sing a positive song about how Quasimodo is unique because of his appearance)
Doug (vo): Third: As annoying as they are, I would give the movie credit if they were imaginary. And you know what? At first, it looks like they are. They don’t just turn back to stone. There’s a scene where they have a whole musical number and it appears that all the stuff they were showing before wasn’t real, like it was all in Quasimodo’s mind. That’s a great idea! I would honestly tolerate them if this was the thought going into it, that Quasimodo was just imagining them. What a great but also tragic way to get your comic relief in. But in the end, nope, they’re real. They’re fighting off the guards, they’re helping him save the day, there’s no way Quasimodo could imagine this. They just come to life. I won’t question how, it’s Disney magic, but come on. You could make these guys a lot less obnoxious.
[Various clips, mainly focusing on the main characters, are shown]
Doug (vo): Okay, so that’s all my bad stuff. Let’s talk about the good stuff, because, honestly, there’s a lot. Let’s talk about what everybody remembers: the villain. Oh, Frollo is such a badass, awesome villain. He does all the bastardly things that a lot of the other Disney Villains do, but they actually make him complex, too. He tries to convince himself that he’s a soldier for God, and yet, he’s constantly doing horrible things, but he tries to justify it every single time. I love it. That’s a great character. Quasimodo is also very likeable. That’s Tom Hulce, the guy who did Amadeus, doing the voice. There’s such a kindness to it, such a softness, and even though his singing voice isn’t technically that great, there’s still so much heart and passion put into it that you don’t care. It sounds wonderful.
Quasimodo [Singing] Out there, strolling by the Seine, taste the morning out there, like ordinary men...
Doug (vo): The songs are very different, for the most part. You have your heartfelt song, you have your comedy song, but then you have the intro song and the Hellfire song. This does what musicals are supposed to do: tell you how the person is feeling and also explain the story in musical form. That is the purpose of a musical, and you know what? They do it great here. That choir is awesome. It makes everything seem so much more gigantic.
[An intense scene in the movie is played with the choir in the background. It's the scene where Frollo is about to drop baby Quasimodo into a well, until the Archdeacon stops him]
Doug (vo): And speaking of which, the film is gigantic. I mean, look at it. It’s just huge! For all the problems that the movie has, you can see why they made it. Notre Dame looks unbelievable. The shadows, the colors, the angles. Much like Bambi, the sheer look of this film makes everything seem so much grander and much more important. And give the movie credit. For Disney, this was very ballsy. It’s not necessarily going after the church. Let’s face it, they never get away with that. But it is sort of touching on issues of faith and good and evil, heaven and hell, God, even lust. The scene where an old man sniffs the young woman’s hair, I couldn’t believe I was watching that. This is a Disney flick? Sex especially is a big no-no in Disney, and to see some of this imagery come out was really kind of shocking. But, personally, I never thought they went too far with it. It fit. Kids can see the good in thoughtful, loving relationships, but they can also see the bad in just mindless, vengeful lust. And there’s also the issue of heartbreak. The main character doesn’t get the woman. Yeah, I don’t think I’m giving anything away when I say that. But at the same time, he’s accepted among the crowd and is able to start a new life. As Disney films go, it’s one of the darkest, and probably took the most risks, and for the most part, it pays off. The changes to the story, I actually don’t mind so much because, for the most part, it does flow pretty well. At times, it’s a little clunky, but, again, this is a very hard adaptation to pull off. In fact, I’m really amazed they pulled it off as well as they did. I know, technically, from a character and storytelling point of view, it’s not the strongest, and for Disney to fully make a version like this work, it either had to be more simpler or just go balls out and tell the entire story, you know, screw the kids. But you sort of know that’s not gonna happen in the same way you know they’re not gonna kill the Little Mermaid in The Little Mermaid.
Doug (vo): So, personally, I really love this one. It’s one of my favorites. I don’t care if it’s clunky, I don’t care if it has problems. The stuff that works really well works unbelievably well, and it sticks with you. If you’re a big fan of the original Victor Hugo book, you’re probably not gonna like this version. But if you just say the title, Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, I think most people can know what to expect, and honestly, I think it’s a little better than what most people expect. The audience for it is growing more and more and I’m really glad to see that, because I don’t think it was a huge hit when it came out. I don’t blame them. After Pocahontas, Disney was just starting to become a little unpopular, and like I said, something this controversial was probably not the film to get audiences back in. But for what it is, it’s a personal fave. It took chances, threw a lot of effort into it, I’ve seen it a million times, and I’ll probably see it a million more.
[A large shot of Notre Dame is shown as the dramatic choir sings the film's main dramatic theme]