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Movie Review:
The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Hunchback of Notre Dame

  • MPAA Rating: G
  • Running Time: 91 minutes

Loyalty, love, and kindness will always trump the world's cruelty.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of Disney's most ambitious, beautiful, poignant, and difficult animated films. Although it carries a G rating, it also carries complex and mature subjects: Authority can be bad, as with Claude Frollo, the Minister of Justice who's self-righteously cruel; or good, as with Phoebus, who bends, then breaks the rules to do what is right. People who look different or live differently are feared or mocked as "outcasts." Esmeralda's immortal soul can be redeemed (according to Frollo) if she gives herself to him physically. Quasimodo himself believes that he is a "monster" and Gypsies are "evil" simply because Frollo has told him so, again and again. These issues move toward a positive resolution, but they are painful to watch as they unfold.

There are humor, action, and adventure in the film, but in the larger context, this feels less like a film for young children than adults. The story, as well as lyrics such as "Out There" and "God Help the Outcasts," provides food for thought and discussion, but they're the kind that seem better suited to viewers ten and older.

Kids Will Like:
Okay, there are two huge belches by "Last Year's King of Fools," and Djali the goat.

"Topsy Turvy" is a sight to see-and dance along with.

The gargoyles are always good for a joke.

Parents Will Like:
Hunchback definitely delivers the message about not judging others by their appearance or by ethnic group.

It's also a visually -- and lyrically -- beautiful film to watch.

Heads Up:
The film opens on a very dark note. Frollo pursues and ultimately kills Quasimodo's mother, then turns to drown the baby Quasimodo in a well.

Frollo's self-righteous evil throughout the film makes him the complete opposite of every lesson parents try to teach about acceptance and kindness. This, in turn, sends a mixed message to young viewers trying to figure out just why he's the Minster of Justice. The film also develops the concept of following your conscience rather than an authority when there is a conflict between the two. This is a positive but complicated idea that will no doubt prompt some discussion.

Given the setting (a Catholic cathedral) and characters (e.g., the Archdeacon), religion and God are very much a part of the story.

Own It?
Rent it first. It is a classic, but it isn't your average Disney fare. Not all may take to it enough to give it repeated viewings.

More Info on The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Story:
Quasimodo, the lonely bell ringer in Paris's Notre Dame Cathedral, is as eager to join the outside world as his "master," Claude Frollo, is determined to keep him hidden away. Things come to a boil at the Feast of Fools, where Quasimodo is crowned the King of Fools and is befriended by the beautiful Gypsy, Esmeralda. She defies Frollo and takes sanctuary in Notre Dame, with the help of Phoebus, the new Captain of the Guard. Frollo's obsession with the "wicked" Gypsies in general shifts to Esmeralda, whom he both desires and despises. His hunt for her after she escapes the cathedral leaves Phoebus wounded and Paris burning. But with the help of new and imagined friends, Quasimodo finds the courage to help the Gypsies, defeat Frollo, and step outside his bell tower.

DVD Special Features:
There's a making-of documentary narrated by Jason Alexander (voice of Hugo), a Topsy Turvy Underground Game, and a sing-along version of "Topsy Turvy," as a multilingual version of "A Guy Like You."

Trivia & Fun:
"Pencil mileage" is a term animators used to describe the amount of sketching required, as in, "The Cathedral of Notre Dame required a great deal of pencil mileage." Watch the making-of doc to find out just how many pencils they used.

Also watch for gargoyle Laverne's Wizard of Oz moment in the film.

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