Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Tony Jay, Kevin Kline, Paul Kandel, Jason Alexander, Charles Kimbrough, Mary Wickes, David Ogden Stiers, Heidi Mollenhauer
Tab Murphy, based on the novel by Victor Hugo
Rated PG for violence and sensuality.
Nominated for Best Score.
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Dolby Digital 2.0
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 91 min.
Release Date: 3/12/2013
• Audio Commentary With Producer Don Hahn and Directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale
• “The Making of The Hunchback of Notre Dame” Documentary
• “Topsy Turvy” Sing-Along Song
• “A Guy Like You” Multi-Language Reel
• Sneak Peeks
• DVD Copy
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The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Two Movie Collection [Blu-Ray] (1996)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 13, 2013)
1996’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame combines the best and the worst tendencies of Disney animation. At its strongest, the retelling of the Victor Hugo classic provides some of Disney’s most rich and vibrant story telling, and it can be very powerful at times. However, the filmmakers occasionally shoot themselves in the foot, as they can’t quite let themselves allow the movie to reach its full potential.
In the Disney version of the tale, a prologue introduces us to a gypsy chased through the streets of Paris by nasty Minister of Justice Claude Frollo (Tony Jay). She dies, and Frollo intends to kill her infant after he discovers Quasi’s misshapen form. However, the Archdeacon of Notre Dame (David Ogden Stiers) halts the murder and uses the power of the church to order Frollo to care for the child.
This he does, but only in a very basic - and semi-abusive - manner, as he restricts the child he calls Quasimodo (Tom Hulce) to the bell tower of the Notre Dame cathedral. Isolated from the world, he creates his own fantasy friends via the gargoyles who surround him; in that regard, he interacts with Victor (Charles Kimbrough), Hugo (Jason Alexander) and Laverne (Mary Wickes).
Quasi’s life remains simple until the annual Festival of Fools starts. He’s always fantasized about visiting this celebration, and with the “urging” of the gargoyles, he dares to venture down to the streets. There he encounters sexy gypsy Esmerelda (Demi Moore), an enchantress who pulls him onstage for the King of Fools competition. With his misshapen face, he wins, but things take a turn for the worse when the crowd discovers Quasi’s mug is his own, not a mask. Matters become dark when Frollo confronts his charge, so Quasi and Esmerelda have to make a quick escape, and she takes sanctuary in the cathedral.
Along the way we meet Frollo’s new Captain of the Guard, Phoebus (Kevin Kline). Called back from the wars specifically to suppress the gypsy population, Phoebus lacks much interest in his new job, but he tries to carry it out as a dutiful soldier. However, he doesn’t factor in his meeting with Esmerelda; sparks fly, and it quickly becomes clear that the two connect.
This doesn’t sit well with Quasiomodo, who develops a crush on Esmerelda. To complicate matters, Frollo obviously has his own issues; he lusts for Esmerelda, and he acts out against her to combat the desires he interprets as negative.
The movie essentially follows this love quadrangle. Frollo obsesses over his desire to eradicate the gypsies and launches violent crusades against them. Phoebus eventually stands up against Frollo’s senseless attacks and becomes an outlaw. Quasimodo tries to deal with all these issues, including his competition with Phoebus and his relationship with Frollo.
At its best, Hunchback offers one of the strongest releases ever from Disney. When I saw it theatrically in 1996, I felt genuinely astounded by the complexity it occasionally manifested. Disney animation definitely offered some dark moments prior to Hunchback, such as the wicked queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Mufasa’s death in The Lion King.
I felt that parts of Hunchback took these tendencies to a new level, mainly because of the increased frequency of them. The film possessed a more consistently dark tone as a whole that made it different than most – all? - other Disney offerings. Hunchback includes some startlingly intense moments. From Frollo’s “Hellfire” tune through the pursuit of the gypsies, the film provides quite a few instances of unusually heavy segments that clearly pushed the envelope of their normal “family” fare; though it received a “G” rating, Hunchback really deserved a “PG”.
The opening sequence to Hunchback allows it to start strong, and much of the rest of the film follows along those lines. It never quite regains the power of the prologue and immediate introduction to Quasimodo, but it certainly stays in positive territory much of the time.
Despite my standard aversion to musicals, I think Hunchback uses the form to its best advantage. Songs make sense thematically and they blend with the story seamlessly much of the time. The first scenes in which we meet adult Quasi and see his interactions with Frollo demonstrate this, as the music and score effortlessly move among characters and themes.
So where does Hunchback fall flat? In regard to its comic relief. Put simply, the film includes too many inappropriately wacky moments, and they come at the expense of the drama.
Granted, some of this material works fine. After the powerful “Hellfire” number, the filmmakers have a noticeably weary Frollo deliver a subtle little line that helps defuse some of the tension, but not in a gratuitous way; the joke alleviates a little heaviness without seeming inappropriate.
Unfortunately, much of the comedy does appear unsuitable for this film, mainly because of those stupid gargoyles. They pop up at all the wrong moments, and they effectively wreck a lot of tense scenes. During the climactic battle, their goofiness deflates the power of the struggle, and right in the midst of some of the movie’s darkest scenes, the filmmakers decided to plop the inanely peppy “A Guy Like You”, a tune that essentially rips off Aladdin’s “A Friend Like Me”.
While the gargoyles and some of the other comic bits don’t ruin the flick, they restrict its potential greatness. Had the filmmakers been willing to go all the way, The Hunchback of Notre Dame might have been one of the five best Disney movies ever. I certainly respect and admire the depth the filmmakers lend to much of the piece, but they seem afraid to follow various to their natural conclusions.
Even with its flaws, however, I still really like Hunchback, and it remains one of my favorite Disney flicks. It doesn’t follow through on its potential, but it works very well for the most part.
The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B / Bonus B-
The Hunchback of Notre Dame appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was a consistently positive presentation.
Sharpness appeared excellent. The film always remained very crisp and detailed, and I saw no signs of softness or fuzziness. It was a nicely distinct and well-defined presentation at all times. I also witnessed no indications of jagged edges, moiré effects or edge enhancement. Print flaws failed to mar this clean tranfer.
Colors seemed strong. Hunchback boasted a lovely and rich palette that varied from soft pastels to burning reds, and the disc duplicated these well. Black levels also came across as deep and dense, but low-light shots could be a bit thick. While I suspect that this was part of the original visual design, I still couldn’t help but feel that the movie seemed a smidgen underlit. That was the only factor that kept the transfer from “A”-level status, as Hunchback usually looked terrific.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of The Hunchback of Notre Dame possessed no real flaws, but it also didn’t do much to stand out from the crowd. The soundfield mainly stayed with a bias toward the front speakers. Within that spectrum, music displayed very good stereo imaging and presence, while effects also offered strong delineation and movement. The front realm gave us a clear and well-blended environment in which elements panned smoothly.
Surround usage seemed somewhat limited, though it worked reasonably well for the film. The rear speakers mainly reinforced effects and music. On some occasions, decent split surround material appeared, but those instances happened fairly infrequently. The back channels added dimensionality to the proceedings but not to a huge degree.
Audio quality appeared good but not great. Dialogue came across as reasonably natural and distinct, and I heard no problems related to edginess or intelligibility. Music appeared clear and bright but seemed somewhat thin; the score and songs lacked substantial low-end response. Effects seemed moderately similar. Although some loud moments featured good bass - like blasts or thumps - a lot of the time the track failed to deliver a lot of pleasing warmth. Ultimately, Hunchback provided a good sonic piece, but it fell short of excellence.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the original DVD from 2002? Audio was a little more vivid and dynamic, but the visuals delivered the more impressive improvements. The Blu-ray was tighter, more vibrant and cleaner.
The Blu-ray replicates most of the DVD’s extras. First up we find an audio commentary from producer Don Hahn and directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale. All three men were recorded together for this running, screen-specific track, and it’s a good one.
Created for a late 1990s laserdisc release, the chat touches on a wide variety of topics. We learn of how the movie compares to the original book, technical challenges and techniques, working with the actors, and many other issues. They even point out many of the inside jokes along the way, and they keep things light and breezy the whole time. It’s a chatty and entertaining piece that offers a lot of good information about Hunchback.
The Making of The Hunchback of Notre Dame runs 28 minutes, two seconds and offers a fluffy look at the film. Hosted by Jason Alexander, the program includes a large number of interview participants. We hear from Hahn, Trousdale, Wise, actors Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Kevin Kline, Tony Jay, Charles Kimbrough, and Heidi Mollenhauer, co-producer Roy Conli, art director Dave Goetz, layout supervisor Ed Ghertner, background supervisor Lisa Keene, visual effects supervisor Christopher Jenkins, composer Alan Menken, lyricist Stephen Schwartz, andanimators Dave Pruiksma, James Baxter, Tony Fucile, Russ Edmonds, Kathy Zielinski and Will Finn.
Despite all those folks, don’t expect much depth, for virtually none of them offer more than one or two lines of information. This show maintains a rapid pace as it gives us a superficial look at the animation process. Alexander provides some moderately amusing comic moments, and the program will offer a gentle introduction to the subject for newbies, but there’s virtually nothing memorable here.
We also find a Multi-Language Reel for “A Guy Like You”. Though an intro for the three-minute, 23-second piece implies that it’ll include 31 different tongues, in fact we only hear 16. It’s a cute segment but not anything more than that.
The disc launches with ads for The Little Mermaid, Monsters University and Planes. These also pop up under Sneak Peeks along with promos for the Epic Mickey 2 video game, Radio Disney, Mulan, Super Buddies, and Return to Neverland.
A second disc offers a DVD Copy of Hunchback. It duplicates the 2002 release right down to the same previews, so it also tosses in a game and a sing-along missing from the Blu-ray.
Unfortunately, we’re still missing plenty of components created in the 1990s. As I noted earlier, Hunchback once appeared as a deluxe laserdisc boxed set, and neither the DVD nor the Blu-ray duplicate that set. The audio commentary, the documentary, and the multi-language reel all showed up on the LD, but we lost tons of stillframe materials as well as deleted songs and a slew of other pieces. It would’ve been nice to finally see these brought back to availability, but they remain LD exclusives.
Despite the disappointing absence of so many extras, I still have to recommend The Hunchback of Notre Dame for one simple reason: it’s a terrific movie. It clearly suffers from some flaws, but it remains one of my favorites, and it works nicely overall. The Blu-ray provides strong picture and audio along with a handful of supplements highlighted by an informative commentary. This becomes the best home video presentation of a daring Disney offering.
Note that the Blu-ray of Hunchback pairs it with its 2002 direct-to-video sequel. Both appear on the same disc.
To rate this film visit the original review of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME