Week 34: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Perhaps an Outcast, but Not a Monster

Notre Dame

Originally Released: 1996

(A quick note from the keeper of this blog: for those of you who have have been following the blog, you may notice that we are not really in week 34 of 2013. As much as it pained me to do so, life was so busy during the past 2-3 months that it was necessary to put this blog on a haitus for a time.

The good news is that I will have time to complete my journey now. So what began as “John’s Disney Movie Year” has become John’s quest to finish 19 Disney movies in the 20 days that are still remaining in 2013. I think I will call this portion “John’s Disney December to Remember.” Or maybe “The 19 days of Disney Christmas.” Whatever the title, I plan on completing this project on time. Hopefully you haven’t abandoned me for good! It is sure to be an interesting ride. Now on to the topic at hand…)

In some ways, it seems to me like the film The Hunchback of Notre Dame has the same reputation as the deformed protagonist it depicts – an outsider forever doomed to live in the shadows of its grander brethren. Over the past 17 years, the story has emerged that this is a movie with few fans and little love.

Esmeralda and Quasi

Yet for those who are willing to look past the popular idea that The Hunchback of Notre Dame is nothing but a lower-tier Disney monstrosity (ok, that may be exaggerating a bit much) and give it a clean look, they will find a beautiful, thoughtful, and entertaining film with a lot of heart and great lessons to teach.

It actually baffles me that Hunchback has this reputation. Because when I think about it, I don’t know a single person who I have talked to about the movie that does not like it. This may mean that I either haven’t talked to enough people about the film, or that I just have some awesome friends and family who can recognize a good thing. I like to believe it is the latter.

Festival

“Celebrate! He likes us!”

At any rate, I am a big fan of the movie. However, I do admit that this wasn’t always the case. When it was first released back in the thick of my growing up years, The Hunchback of Notre Dame just didn’t excite me the way that earlier Disney renaissance films did. Maybe it was because I had reached the “teenage-boy-who-can’t-admit-to-like-Disney” phase of life (it didn’t hit me as hard as most, but there was a little of it inside me). It might have been that Quasimodo didn’t seem like a protagonist I really wanted to follow and learn about. Instead, he was more likely to be dismissed and ridiculed as a Disney character.

Perhaps part of the reason The Hunchback of Notre Dame suffers its reputation is that its main intended audience comprised millions of kids just like me. After viewing the film again, I wonder just how much it can resonate with little ones. For example, consider the idea of embracing Quasimodo along with the theme of accepting those who are different. How many of us can remember that instead of inspiring children and teens in the mid/late 90’s, in many cases, the term “Quasimodo” became a popular derogatory nickname aimed at the handicapped, unpopular, or “weirdo” kids?

gargoyles

These guys are perhaps the biggest appeal to the kids. For adults, they are more tolerable that appealing.

So while it is true that the film has the color, the music, and the splendor that kids should love, things like the Quasimodo-Esmeralda-Phoebus “love triangle”, the inner complexities of the villain Frollo, and the subtle and deeper themes of the film are more readily comprehended and appreciated by the adult viewer. In fact, this may just be Disney’s most adult movie in the entire canon. Some topics touched on include genocide, religious hypocrisy (and on the flip side, living pure religion), and giving in to lustful desires.

Frollo

Here’s another standout villain in the Disney Canon. The voice work by Tony Jay was very fitting for the role.

That being said, the themes and lessons taught in The Hunchback of Notre Dame are lessons that should be taught to the youngest of ages. The prominent themes include giving precedence to inner virtues over outer differences, remembering that we are all children of God,knowing that decisions are yours to make and yours alone, learning to have the courage to take a stand for what is right – regardless of the outcome. And this is just a sampling. 

I am a fan of this scene and song.

I am a fan of this scene and song.

Over the past couple years, The Hunchback of Notre Dame has found itself steadily rising on my list of favorite Disney films. The more times I watch it, the more I appreciate the decisions made by the filmmakers in bringing this story to Disney animated life. Like the big-hearted Quasimodo in the film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame really does have a lot to offer.

Paris

Phoebus

Why isn’t Phoebus more popular? I think he’s an awesome character.

Bells

outcast

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5 thoughts on “Week 34: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

  1. Glad to see you back! I’ve wondered where you’ve been.

    This definitely is the most adult film in the Disney Canon; I don’t know anybody who’s seen this film as a kid and liked it then.

  2. Conrado Falco says:

    This is so interesting. I also wrote about Hunchback a couple weeks ago, and I had the exact opposite impression you have about its reputation. I personally don’t like the movie and had only encountered people who liked it.

    • John says:

      That is fascinating, isn’t it? It could be that my impressions could have been carried over from back in the day when it first came out. People just didn’t seem to gravitate toward it all that much. Maybe time has changed the general perception.

  3. Ben Walser says:

    I love this movie. It’s definitely Disney’s most underrated animated film.

  4. smilingldsgirl says:

    You must be in different circles than me because nobody I know likes it. In fact, I asked friends and it was by far the majority bottom choice. I must admit I am not a fan. It’s beautiful and I admire what they were trying to do but the rape undertones and when the family is going to be burned alive crosses a line for me.
    If they didn’t try to appeal to kids and went Pans Labyrinth hard R territory I might think differently but alas not a fan. Enjoying reading your reviews as I’m doing mine.

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