The Hunchback Of Notre Dame Essay, Research Paper
A gem that has several very visible flaws; yet, with these flaws, "The
Hunchback of Notre Dame" shines as the best from the Disney factory yet.
For, at first, the company name and movie title didn’t quite appear to sit
well together. You don’t marry the king of novel Gothic gloom (Mr. Victor
Hugo) with one of the world’s most beloved (if not biggest) animation
companies and expect the usual world population to be at the reception; but
expect even Mr. Walt Disney to pat himself on the shoulder blade (or what’s
left of it) for allowing a hideous hunchback to be transformed into a Gene
Kelly-Incredible Hulk combo type of hero.
This "hero" is Quasimodo (Tom Hulce), which by the way means half-formed.
It’s about his distorted education (whoever teaches the alphabet using
abomination, blasphemy, condemnation, damnation and eternal damnation ?),
his humiliation (being crowned the king of fools), his first love and his
big, big heart. It’s about how our outward appearances should not matter
(sounds familiar?). It’s about believing in yourself but not being
self-righteous. And it’s about reliving the magic of Oscar-nominated
"Beauty and the Beast", directed by Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale (both,
incidentally, were also responsible for "Hunchback".)
Wise and Trousdale obviously had a vision that didn’t exactly conform to
your usual "and they lived happily ever after" type of fairy tale. They
employed a lot of artistic license when rewriting the plot. It was, after
all, a cartoon; but they didn’t allow it to become an excuse to dissolve the
poignancy and tragedy into nothingness. Quasimodo did not get the girl.
Nobody exactly lived "happily ever after". There was an amazing amount of
implicit blood and violence. All that with Quasimodo’s unrestrained
outburst near the end and the best animated celluloid representation of the
kiss contribute to the real emotions that flowed from the characters.
Talking about being real, the drawings in "Hunchback" were simply
breathtaking. The two directors and chief artists actually made their way
to the famed Notre Dame cathedral in Paris to experience first hand the
magnificence and beauty of it. For ten whole days, they walked through,
looked from, sat on, literally lived and breathed Notre Dame. The artists
even "swatched" some dirt just to match the colour! The result was such
artistry that even George Lucas and Steven Spielberg would have wanted to
call their own. The scenes in the market place, the panoramic view of the
steps of Notre Dame and beyond all left me gaping in wonder and sheer
excitement that such representation could be possible through animation;
it’s all thanks to computer animation.
Computer or no computer, animation has certainly come a long way. From the
days of "101 Dalmatians", "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" and
"Cinderella" to "Hunchback" (Disney’s 34th full-length animated feature
film), there have been no lack of originality. Like its predecessor,
"Hunchback" is definitely original material destined for the Oscars. Like
the directors functioning as visionaries, the stars that are being voice
casted work like magic. Tom Hulce takes centre stage as Quasimodo’s voice,
giving it a raw passion and sounding appropriately un-handsome. A very
plucky, wild and fiery gypsy Esmeralda voiced very convincingly by Demi
Moore. It is almost a reprisal of her recent role in "Striptease" as an
exotic dancer (euphemism for stripper) , which censors here will not take to
kindly. Kevin Kline did justice to the inclusion of the devistatingly
handsome Captain Phoebus by giving him that wickedly humorous edge. All the
voice actors gave such a brilliant performance that they didn’t allow the
celluloid to imprison their characters, rather they added a very human
dimension that made very cartoon pop right out of the screen.
The animated feature film, though being a highly collaborative effort
(especially the case with Disney), hangs on three main factors to work well:
the directors’ vision, the voice casting and the drawings themselves; all of
which we have looked at previous to this. In the case of a Disney cartoon,
however, the music also features as one of the facets of a Disney gem. What
I would have considered a loss for Disney with the death of Howard Ashman
has been filled by Stephen Schwartz; this is not to say that I am dismissing
the Elton John-Tim Rice-Hans Zimmer team responsible for "The Lion King".
The incredible sensitivities that Ashman had with his writing was what made
the songs to "Mermaid", "Beauty" and "Aladdin" so rich and beautiful;
John-Rice-Zimmer’s music to "The Lion King" worked well because it was
supposed to be grandiose and wild. And by roping in Schwartz for
"Pocahontas", Disney saved the audience the pain of having the tenderness of
the script and characters shattered by inappropriate lyric and musical
The same goes for "Hunchback". I can see the amount of effort Schwartz took
with every little word; even with the adaptation of the canto Gregorian
chants. The echoing of Quasi’s wrongly instilled self-perception by making
his first song lines "I am deformed, I am ugly". The self-inflicted pun of
being "old and bent" (he’s a hunchback) in "Out There". The partying frenzy
he gets the audience into with "Topsy Turvy". The trio of gargoyles Victor,
Hugo and Laverne (Murphy Brown’s Charles Kimbrough, Seinfeld’s Jason
Alexander and Mary Wickes of "Sister Act") doing a very Broadway "A Guy Like
You". Emeralda (singing voice provided by Heidi Mollenhauer) a very
Christian "God Help The Outcasts". And the opening "The Bells of Notre
Dame" by Clopin (my favourite character in the movie) all point to
Schwartz’s lyrical genius. Two lines that really stuck were "And it’s the
day we do the things that we deplore/ On the other three hundred and
sixty-four" from "Topsy Turvy". The rhyme and convenience of "deplore" and
"364" is nothing short of brilliant.
The one song that stands out as the highlight of the movie the brilliant
juxtaposition of Quasi’s "Heaven’s Light" and Frollo’s "Hellfire". The
contact with Esmeralda sparking off two disparate reactions from two very
different men; to borrow a phrase from the storyteller, Clopin (Paul Kandel
doing a splendid and candid job), we all end up wondering "who is the
monster and who is the man".
At the end of the day, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" succeeds where most
other Disney movies fail: to be a cartoon not for kids, but for grown-ups
depicting grown-up problems. "Hunchback" will not gross as much in terms of
merchandising as "The Lion King" did. It’s also a safe bet to say that kids
will go back home without the usual "boy meets girl, boy falls in love with
girl, kills dragon that captured girl and they lived happily ever after"
feeling. Yet, I still applaud their efforts in daring to try something so
truthful and yet still so enjoyable. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and
most importantly, it made me think. For a long time to come, "Hunchback"
will be seen as the movie Disney took all kids (8-80) on a field trip to
this place called "the real world".