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Hunchback of Notre Dame another Disney classic

The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise.

Music by Alan Menken.

Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.

Featuring the voices of Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Kevin Kline, Tony Jay.

By Teresa Huang
Staff Reporter

Disney's done it again; this time with real flair. The Hunchback of Notre Dame had large shoes to fill in the wake of Disney's last triumph, the technological masterpiece Toy Story, and the film certainly succeeds in surpassing all past projects. A majestic and powerful film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame takes its place among a long line of successful Disney animated features, which are each special in their own way, and unfortunately, each flawed in their own way.

The hero of this tale is the deformed man Quasimodo, voiced and sung by Tom Hulce (Amadeus), sentenced to live his life alone in the bell tower of the Notre Dame cathedral by his master Judge Claude Frollo, a sinister and tragic character voiced by Tony Jay. The hunchback has a weak spirit but a heart of gold, not to mention three good friends who just happen to be stone gargoyles -- Victor, Hugo, and Laverne, voiced by Charles Kimbrough (Murphy Brown), Jason Alexander (Seinfeld), and Mary Wickes (Sister Act), respectively. They mean well, but their encouragement doesn't always lead to success for their friend. The story unfolds when Quasimodo ventures into the city streets during the Festival of Fools and is entranced when he meets the gypsy Esmerelda, voiced by Demi Moore, who also entrances the handsome Captain Phoebus, voiced by Kevin Kline.

The music is satisfactory, but still not as beautiful as when Alan Menken was paired with Howard Ashman. The opening number, "The Bells of Notre Dame", is sufficiently majestic, but after hearing that theme recur in several parts of the film, I got a little tired of bells. Esmerelda's prayer "God Help the Outcasts", sung by Broadway star Heidi Mollenhauer, and Quasimodo's dramatic song "Out There", sung by Hulce himself, are beautifully performed and orchestrated, but the music seems a bit contrived, the melodies all being a little too complicated to be truly memorable.

The star of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is by far the artwork. Some scenes were so breathtaking that they might as well have been real. The background scenery was designed with great care, and Disney's animation team truly brought out the magnificence of the Notre Dame cathedral as well as the entire city of Paris. You'll gasp when you see the intricate interior of Notre Dame. Especially impressive is the way lighting is carefully shown in the film. The sun that shines through stained glass windows of the cathedral don't look like sticks of light, but rather real beams of light through the dust of the hall, every nuance of the light noticed and reproduced. Not a detail is overlooked, from the mist of the archdeacon's incense to the flames and people in the background, remarkably created with the help of computer multiplication technology.

Where this movie fails is in its intensity, which took me by surprise. The Hunchback is great, but it is not for kids. I expected a film where we could cheer and support the underdog because he reminds us all a little of ourselves, a message which the Hunchback does indeed convey, but not without dark undertones of temptation and desire in the face of one's own God, and political corruption and deception. Most disturbing is Judge Frollo's song "Hellfire," in which he equates the disturbing passion he feels for Esmerelda with the burning flames of Hell. The song is gripping and moving to us, but what about to the six-year-old child who asks mommy what the mean man was singing about? Disney movies have always been special because they are made with several different levels so that younger children can watch and enjoy one without necessarily understanding all of it, but this time, I think Disney has gone too far, especially if they still intend to market toys and other paraphernalia to a younger audience.

Regardless of its flaws, the music, characters, and scenery in the Hunchback of Notre Dame are all around excellent and well worth adding to your list of presented, kids are probably not going to understand all of it, which seems to be fine with Disney. We'll just have to see if those Quasimodo dolls sell.