hunchbackcoverartGrade:  B-,  C+
Entire Family:  No

1996, 91 min., Color
Rated G (but contains violence)

Aspect ratio:  1.78:1, 1.66:1
Featured audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features:  C+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVDs


I’m not sure how Disney got away with a G rating on The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  Within the first few minutes a mother is killed onscreen while trying to save her baby, and the perpetrator—the intolerant Minister of Justice—then tries to drown the child.

There’s plenty of violence throughout the film, with one main character seriously wounded and another appearing to die on-camera. Minister of Justice Frollo persecutes the gypsies and burns their houses, while the people of Paris bind and humiliate the title character—a bell ringer (Tom Hulce) whose deformed face and back have made him a monster in the eyes of everyone except three stone gargoyles who come to life and the gypsy Esmerelda (Demi Moore), who at first thinks he’s wearing a Feast of Fools mask.

Then there are the sexual overtones, including a pole dance allusion to Striptease (which Moore made the same year), some innuendo-filled banter between Esmerelda and Captain Phoebus (Kevin Kline), and Frollo’s pervy fondling of Esmerelda’s hair (with the implication that she can do something for him). As my wife put it, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is “too dark and too dirty for kids.” And in keeping with a dark story that’s under lit much of the time, the normally cheery Disney songs are mostly somber here. “Sad and boring” were the adjectives my 11-year-old daughter used to describe the film.

hunchback2When Disney first released The Hunchback of Notre Dame to home video, I gave it high marks because I was wowed by the 15th century Paris set decoration and background art. All that is still impressive, but once you’ve gotten past the wow factor it’s not enough to compensate for a sometimes-plodding narrative (especially in the second act) that seems too bound by the long and sad novel from the author who gave us Les Misérables. This film is so adult in nature that Disney’s attempts in insert the usual comic relief via minor characters (three gargoyles, Esmerelda’s goat, and a condemned man who keeps getting released ever-so-briefly) only seem jarring and incongruous. In the end, you’re still left with a tragedy of the highest order, no matter how Disney tried to round off the edges and force a happy ending.

The 2002 direct-to-video sequel, meanwhile, seems repentantly cheerful. Though a different clown figure appears and Frollo is gone, Phoebus (Kline) and Esmerelda (Moore) return as a married couple with child and Quasimodo (Hulce again) is fully accepted by the Parisians. Since Quasimodo’s love went unrequited in the first film, of course Disney hooks him up with a new love interest this time. But the plot seems outlandish. It concerns the leader of a circus troupe who uses performances in every city as a means of stealing. In Paris, his target is the famous (and huge) bell La Fidele of Notre Dame, though his assistant, Madellaine (Jennifer Love Hewitt), is conflicted.

hunch2The style of animation and artwork is pure Saturday morning, while the cheery songs meant to atone for the tortured opera-style arias of the first film sound a bit too generic and detached from the narrative. Overall, I’d give The Hunchback three stars despite the problem of audience, and the sequel two.  This combo pack features both movies on a single Blu-ray disc and a DVD for each film. Bonus features are relatively scant, however, with no original HD content added—only DVD features ported over.