FFlashback: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

The bells of Notre Dame toll as our Disney retrospective reaches one of the studio’s darkest – and most underrated – films…


The One Where: Based on the classic novel set in 15th century Paris, a deformed bell-ringer named Quasimodo falls in love with the feisty gypsy girl Esmeralda – but so does the pious, tyrannical Judge Frollo, who plans to purge the gypsy population from the city.

Star Turns: Esmeralda is another hit in the female lead department, but Tony Jay’s despicable Frollo steals the show. Most of this era’s villains have a comic element to them, not Frollo – he’s hateable through and through and Jay’s devillish delivery is perfect for this villain who believes he is God’s right-hand man.

Best Song: Hunchback boasts a beautiful score, with a choral bent inspired by the cathedral-setting. Memorable songs include ‘The Bells of Notre Dame’, ‘Out There’ and ‘God Help The Outcasts’ but once again Frollo stands out. ‘Hellfire’ breaks new ground for Disney, as the sexually-suggestive lyrics and hellish imagery make for perhaps their most adult-themed song ever.

Verdict: I’ve no idea why Disney thought that Victor Hugo’s weighty gothic novel would be perfect for them to adapt but I’m really glad they did. Though the other Renaissance films have the odd dark moment, Hunchback is basically a stream of shocking scenes, with themes of racial genocide and religious extremism. Though there are Quasi’s comedy gargoyles (who you’re never sure aren’t just imaginary friends) and a bunch of likeable heroes, the levels of darkness is probably why Disney has tried to wipe this under the carpet ever since. This is a great shame as, with great heart, songs and characters, it’s one of their most underrated films.

Hidden Beauty: During the opening of the film, none other than Beauty and the Beasts Belle can be found walking through the streets of Paris, reading her book. While it would be fun to think that these two French-set films take place concurrently, Belle is actually from a few centuries later and lives in the country.



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