It's clear that The Hunchback Of Notre Dame is a Disney film. Many of the key components for a Disney film are here. However, there are some shockingly un-Disney like elements here. And while I wouldn't want all Disney films to be like The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, this is a very nice change of pace.
Frollo, a powerful king and a religious man is in charge of taking care of an ugly hunchback named Quasimodo in order to be forgiven of his sins, specifically, an act of murder. Quasimodo is in charge of ringing the bells in the chapel. But Quasimodo wants to be free, yet Frollo doesn't allow it. When Quasimodo finally does manage to escape briefly, he gets into a bit of a mess, but it helped by a rebellious gypsy named Esmerelda. Frollo, however, is obsessed with doing away with the gypsies, but Quasimodo is determined to help the gypsies which throws his life into chaos.
The Hunchback Of Notre Dame has all the Disney staples: Songs, humorous side characters, romance, Alan Menken score, and a happy ending. But Disney has tweaked the formula a bit, this time around.
The Hunchback Of Notre Dame is significantly darker than most other Disney films. While Disney clearly tries hard not to over do it, there are a lot of intensely dark scenes. Depending on your point of view, this could be a bad or good thing. Personally, I think the level of darkness here really works, even if it may be a bit much for younger kids.
One slightly disappointing thing about The Hunchback Of Notre Dame was it's humor. While there are many attempts at humor throughout the movie, I didn't laugh a whole lot. This isn't because the jokes are dumb, they're just, well, not that funny. They seem mostly more geared to the younger audience.
Rarely have I seen a film with so many songs. I'd like to say there's about 10 songs in the film (though some are just reprises). So it's a shame that the songs aren't very good. In fact, many of them are more like poems as opposed to songs. Many don't have a chorus, and they exist primarily to movie the story along. The songs are in great number, but they just aren't very memorable.
There are two decent songs in the film, though. One is the main theme; "The Bells of Notre Dame," and "Topsy Turvy" which wouldn't be nearly as special without the visuals.
And speaking of the visuals, they are stupendous. I feel like I'm always gushing about how great the visuals are when I review Disney films, and even though I always expect great visuals, I'm always impressed every time. And this is no exception.
The voices are a bit of a mixed bag. Tom Hulce has a less than stellar singing voice, but when he's not singing, he brings emotion and sympathy to Quasimodo. Demi Moore does well as Esmerelda, but there's nothing incredibly impressive here. By far the most impressive voice talent here, is that of Tony Jay as Frollo. Frollo delivers a lot of intense lines and musical numbers that Jay nails.
Though I've never been all that impressed with Alan Menken's scores, he really nails this one. With heavy emphasis on bells and choir, Menken delivers a grand and spectacular score to The Hunchback Of Notre Dame.
While lacking in humor and memorable songs, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame is a solid piece of work. Dark themes, a memorable villain, a winning score and jaw dropping visuals makes this a welcome addition to the Disney canon.