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The Hunchback of Notre Dame

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Starring: Demi Moore, Heidi Mollenhauer
Director: Gary Trousdale
Rated: PG
RunTime: 95 Minutes
Release Date: June 1996
Genres: Animation, Family, Kids

*Also starring: Tony Jay, Kevin Kline, Paul Kandel, Charles Kimbrough, Jason Alexander, Mary Wickes, Jane Withers, David Ogden Stiers

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1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
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Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME is a carefully constructed show with stunning visuals. The sets are crafted with a wide range from surrealistic crimson cast skies to a skyscraper looking cathedral that is so real that you will feel like you must be wearing 3D glasses. Disney takes a lot of risks in adapting this controversial Victor Hugo novel to the screen. It manages not to offend anyone, even the church which most movies are happy to ridicule ad nauseam.

Although I like the film and recommend it, I will admit upfront that I was disappointed. Based on the hype, I thought it would be much better than last year's POCAHONTAS, but I found them about equal. Although THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME is dramatic, I found only a few scenes moving. The characters are created with a great flourish, but they are not compelling enough to make us care about them more than superficially. Remember how concerned you were about Bambi and Dumbo? Well, Disney just does not demonstrate that ability to touch us here.

What I missed most of all was the great Disney humor. In THE LION KING, Timon and Pumbaa are hilarious. The gargoyles, Victor (voice by Charles Kimbrough), Hugo (voice by Jason Alexander) and Laverne (voice by Mary Wickes), had the potential to be much funnier, but the lines screenwriters Tab Murphy and David Stainton come up are lame. If you want to see how good a feature length cartoon can be and especially how one can create hilarious characters that are full of pathos then you need look no further back than last year's TOY STORY. It, of course, did not come from the Disney studio at all, but rather from a young upstart.

Okay, okay, so I have expressed my disappointment, but what did you like about the movie other than the look, you ask? Well, that is not a fair question since I want to tell you more about the visual statement this picture makes. I think Disney's animation represents the best in American art today. I am sure Disney would have Monet under contract if he were still alive.

Let me try to capture some of what I think makes these visuals so outstanding. First, the use of light has all of the realism of a Vermeer. As the clouds move across the sky and as the characters walk around the room, the light moves realistically and dramatically across the characters' faces. The colors are done in a slightly hazy blend of shades of roses and blues. Most impressive of all are the transitions from the Impressionistic landscape scenes to the imposing scenes of massive buildings that seem to shoot straight out of the canvas, I mean screen. My favorite part of the drawing is that of Esmeralda's eyes. They are so large with a blue green luminesce that they steal any scene they are in.

Although I had expected more, the story does have many good scenes. Judge Claude Frollo (voice by Tony Jay) has a small scene where he smushes ants with his thumb and thereby demonstrates his sinisterness. Esmeralda (voice by Demi Moore) is given to making speeches every now and then like "You speak of justice and yet you are cruel to those most in need of justice." Here we are generally saved from the political correctness dogma that was so pervasive in POCAHONTAS. In fact one of funnier lines comes when Esmeralda sees Quasimodo (voice by Tom Hulce) at the Feast of Fools and tells him, "By the way, great mask," about his face. The most poignant scene in the film is when Esmeralda frees Quasimodo when he is being pelted with fruit. The drawing of Quasimodo is a well chosen compromise. He is disfigured, but not so horrible looking that he might scare small children.

The movie is filled with songs (Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz), but I found all of them instantly forgettable. Clearly the worst set of songs from Disney in years.

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME runs 1:35 which is just about right. The film is rated G. There is no nudity, sex, or bad language, and the violence is mild. There are a few scenes like the fire one or the one with a person falling from a building that may scare kids under 4 as may the overall dark tone of the show. My son Jeffrey (age 7) who is hypersensitive to violence thinks it would be fine for kids of all ages. He loves the show and recommends it. I like it too albeit not as much as Jeffrey. I recommend it to you and give it ***.

Copyright 1996 Steve Rhodes

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