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The Hunchback Of Notre Dame back to reviews
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What it could have been...
I LOVE this movie. I thought it really pushed the boundries of what people expected from Disney. It had a dark yet serious storyline, interesting characters, EXCELLENT music (one of the best villain songs of all time), and every reason to become a huge hit for 1996. But... something went wrong.

It's been well documented that Disney executives lack the artistic drive which the company was founded on. They want to market disney to be profitable, and in the process, they've made modern audiences perceive Disney as "kiddy". They don't like taking risks which could upset the family-friendly image they've cultivated, and adapting a story as grim as "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" more or less anchored this film to becoming an afterthought in the Disney Renaissance (which was in a decline ever since their meddling with Pocahontas).

To the point, THBOND feels a bit too schizophrenic. Call it a victim of Aladdin's formula. There's no reason for the gargoyles to be what they are. What if they were representations of Quasimodo's psyche? His perceptions of the world that he was never allowed to join? Why are they being played for comedy? Had they been used for something other than a celebrity cash-in, they would have been welcome additions to the story. But here, they're nothing but distractions. You already have a source of comedy in Clopin, and since he's also telling the story from the beginning, why not make him a greek chorus? Instead, we have characters who exist solely to be put on merchandise that no-one bought.

I feel that this movie was doomed from the beginning by simply being what it is: a tragedy. Phoebus was an asshole, Esmeralda died pointlessly, Frollo was sympathetic, etc. But Disney was hamstrung by two things: their inability to story-tell a tragedy towards a young audience, and the public's inability to accept one in the first place. With all the skewering and overspeculation by moral guardians who complained over supposed controversies with their older films (Aladdin and Lion King), the executives cowed and overrode the artists decisions, giving us a product that most of us would expect, yet few of us would want. Disney wasn't allowed to push any farther than what they offered, and some were expecting more.

This movie could have been epic, but was hamstrung by executive meddling and moral panic, and settled for very good.
Aside from the gargoyles, I honestly don't think giving it a happy ending was a mistake. True Art Is Angsty is not as good as some people think it is, and Don Bluth's Earn Your Happy Ending movies were loved for a reason. Having Quasi finally get accepted but not get the girl who he idolized too much felt earned.
comment #16266 emeriin 25th Sep 12
^ OP: I have no problem with the ending itself, but i felt the inclusion of comedic elements (the gargoyles, NOT Clopin) to the film disrupted the balance of story. Clopin was frantic and energized in his humour, but could still be taken seriously as a character. The gargoyles offered nothing to the story; they were just an excuse for the adults in the audience to go "HA! THAT'S COSTANZA! HA! THAT'S NILES!". The story doesn't have to be grimdark, just mature enough not to cater to the audience with pop culture references and topical humor. The ending was nice, in that it's what people wanted to see. It would have felt cruel to have treated Quasimodo like in the original story. Hypocritical statement notwithstanding, people expect happy endings with Disney. That's a given. But Frollo could have been treated better, too. In the original story, he was an archdeacon with a compassionate side who struggled with, and ultimately gave in to his immoral urges. Here, he is... a disney villain. An obvious bad guy from the go. Having a story which followed Quasimodo's acceptance into society is good, but I felt Frollo's fall from grace could have been documented better ("Hellfire" was great, so why weren't there more moments which dealt with Frollo addressing his darker side? Like he could be tending to someone's confession, and find himself sympathizing with their sins). Having him as a judge instead of a direct religious authority also felt like a cop-out. To be fair, Disney wasn't the first to do this, but they knew someone was going to take issue with the church being put in a bad light, so they ducked it all together. It felt kind of cheap. But i'm not supporting [1], just considering what else they could have done with this adaptation that could have made it better and more sophisticated.
comment #16267 flashsucks 25th Sep 12
Honestly, it sounds like your complaints (aside from the gargoyles) are that the movie is not the book. It was never going to be the book, but what we got was still one of the darkest, most mature animated movies of all time, with gorgeous visuals and music. And Frollo is considered the most complex Disney villaain. Some changes were to avoid controvery, like not alienating the entire Catholic community. Some were because it's Disney, like the ending, and some were because there wasn't time to cover so much of the book.

I agree that the gargyles are out of place, but I still think that they might be just in Quasi's mind. Yeah, you see them fight the army, but then they're completely gone when Frollo and Quasi have their showdown. And when Quasi pours the molten metal they're helping, until they're clearly not there when he actually pulls the rope to pour the stuff. Whatever rope it is they're pulling on is no help at all and doesn't even seem connected to the big pot.
comment #16285 uncannybeetle 27th Sep 12
Honestly the only problem I had was with the gargoyles.
comment #17188 LucyintheSkywithDiamonds 11th Dec 12
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