The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

What does “Hunchback” teach the audience? Whether you’re gorgeous or ugly, if the hot girl says you’re cool, you’ll become the hero. Also, the nice guy always finishes last. Surely Quasimodo rides off in to the sunset with his crowd of supporters in the end, but who is Esmerelda going home with later that night? “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is a bastardization from Walt Disney, where they take the tragic and brilliant tale of Quasimodo and water it down so much it’s barely an adaptation when we see it in animated force.

The grotesque Quasimodo is now just a guy with a bad back, he’s not that lonely because his friends are a group of bland unfunny talking gargoyles, and there is a happy ending. But then, what seven year old has read Victor Hugo’s tale, right? Nonsense.It was evident by the late nineties that it was time for a change for Disney, as they adapted tragedies turning them in to feel good tales, while creating mascots for the company that were bland as bread. Hell, even Quasimodo at the end of the day is barely a mortifying individual, as he is just a slightly deformed young man who is hard to resist. After surviving a murder from the hands of the evil archdeacon, Quasimodo is adopted by the local cathedral and spends his days ringing the bell tower and living among his gargoyle friends watching life go by.

When he sees the gorgeous gypsy dancer Esmerelda, he decides to finally brave it and socialize in a costume ball. Esmerelda is painted as an anachronistically spunky heroine, who not only takes pity on Quasimodo but seeks to defend him against the evil outside of the church. Meanwhile Phoebus is a dashing guard akin to Zorro who garners a romantic chemistry with Esmerelda when he discovers she and Quasimodo have become allies. Much of the animated film is so detracted from the original source material that it just shames the original novel. Surely, this is by no means the first time Disney has taken source material and altered it for their niche audience, but “Hunchback” is much different from Grimm fairytales.

It’s much more of a dramatic piece and tragic tale of outcasts. It’s not an upbeat and uplifting story about a guy who just needs friends. If it were as easy for Quasimodo to make friends, why didn’t he ever try to socialize years before? Not to mention, Disney takes great pains to avoiding bashing the church and the ideologies of religion as the original Hugo tale did, offering a more sanitized tale with broad themes of alienation, while the villain Frollo is turned in to a one dimensional villain and nothing more. There are no complexities to Frollo or his motivation, thus he is immensely boring. This is sadly Disney at the nadir of its two dimensional animation phase. Despite the inspired cast, and efforts at depicting a wide open and vast world, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is a shameful iteration of a literary masterpiece. For my money, the Lon Chaney silent film always gets my time and attention. This Disney version is for folks who like the bubble they inhabit.