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.