The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) Movie Review
Disney has produced many animated films throughout its century-old journey—classics like Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, Pinocchio, Bambi, Mulan, etc.
However, no Disney film deals with adult topics like discrimination, lustful desires, and racism than The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
This film might fool you because it's animated and safe for children but behind its moving storyline hides a deep meaning.
Based on the classic book by Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame tells the story of young Quasimodo. As a baby, he was taken by Paris' Minister of Justice, Judge Claude Frollo, from his mother after he accidentally knocked her and died. When he saw the baby's face, he assumed he was the devil's incarnation. He reluctantly agrees to raise the infant as his own, naming him Quasimodo ("half-formed") and hiding him in Notre Dame's bell tower.
Two decades later, Quasimodo becomes a kind man with a hunchback but feels isolated. Three statued gargoyles accompany him and encourage him to attend the Festival of Fools. Frollo warns Quasimodo that the people will mock his appearance. He still chooses to attend, and the people celebrate due to his looks. However, Frollo's guards humiliate him, then he is rescued by Esmeralda, a kind Romani traveler. The two escaped Frollo's capture and went to Notre Dame.
Captain Phoebus, one of Frollo's guards, followed them to the cathedral but refused to capture Esmeralda. Angry and disappointed, Frollo develops a lust towards Esmeralda and vows to do everything to seek her out.
The fantastic Tom Hulce voices this classic film as Quasimodo, Demi Moore as Esmeralda, and Tony Jay as Judge Claude Frollo. I recall Tom Hulce's marvelous performance as Mozart in Amadeus, and his role in this film does not fall short.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is not your typical children's animated movie with a lighthearted story and a heartwarming plot. It has only unique themes to this movie, like traditional religious beliefs. Frollo may be driven by his lustful desires toward Esmeralda but also notices the corruption outside. He tries to eradicate sin by self-purging them using his methods.
One of the harrowing themes in this movie is discrimination. It's shown predominantly with the character of Judge Claude Frollo. How he treats Quasimodo like a sinful being needs to be purged, and everything around him that does not satisfy his beliefs.
What's astounding about this Disney classic is its characters and how the audience cares about them. Quasimodo may have been a naive society outcast, but we know he needs someone who will not judge him by his appearance. Sometimes you just want to pause the movie, travel towards it, hug Quasimodo, and tell him everything will be alright. Esmeralda may once have been part of the Disney Princess list because of her soon-to-be fate after falling in love with Captain Phoebus, but she is also a victim of discrimination and the villain's desires.
This film had its own share of controversies. Some priests urged to boycott the movie due to its depiction of Christianity. Even British parents decided to prevent their kids from watching this film. Maybe if Disney opted to place a PG-13 rating, it would be different.
Children who have watched this movie may need to rewatch this again as they grow older. They may not understand some scenes or themes easily. I had no thought when I first watched this as a child, but now I know it more.
There may never be a Disney movie that handles a more adult-like concept than The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It has a unique story that needs to be understood more.
I will certainly give this film a perfect 5 out of 5 stars for its uniqueness compared to other Disney films.