Aug 18, 2010

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) - a story sung by the bells of Our Lady

directed by Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise / voices by Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Tony Jay

My top 5 Paris movies, #4

Quasimodo's mother dies when he's a baby and the evil judge Frollo is forced to become his guardian. Frollo makes him a bellringer in Notre Dame and manipulates him to stay away from the public. Only when the 20-year-old Quasimodo befriends a beautiful Gypsy dancing girl Esmeralda, he begins to question his master. 

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is maybe the most underrated Disney film. At the time of its release I watched it again and again and again and still today it remains one of my favourites.

In many ways Hunchback is different from the avarage Disney classic. Its tone is considerably darker, some parts are surprisingly scary and difficult for a child to comprehend and process (like the prologue, where we witness the death of Quasi's mother, and musical scene, where Frollo is tormented by the attraction he feels towards Esmeralda). It's also unusually realistic - no talking animals or fairy godmothers (the gargoyles talk and move, alright, but I interpret this as Quasi's imagination). And the central character isn't a gorgeous prince, who automatically gets the beautiful princess.

Quasimodo is so sweet and it's impossible not to like him. Esmeralda has to be the most seductively beautiful and sexy Disney princess (okay, not a princess, but anyway... Hercules' Meg falls under the same category as well). She intentionally uses her looks in her provocative dance, but of course there's the more Disney side of her, too. Frollo is evil, so evil, and a very very good baddie. I know I was scared of him as a kid. Reminds me a bit of The Lion King's Scar.

The music in Hunchback is amazing. There are the traditional Disney-ish songs: the wistful love-oh-love song, the oh-how-I-wish-things-were-otherwise-and-so-help-me-god-some-day-they-will-be song early on in the film and so on. Bells of Notre Dame is no doubt my favourite - it's flamboyant and grand and dramatic, almost like opera, and it gives me goosebumbs every time. Even that YouTube video did it! God Help the Outcast is also beautiful. Notre Dame itself plays a very important part in the songs and the film, offering an atmospheric and beautiful setting for the story.

The movie is loosely based on a classic novel. I say loosely, because the movie has been thoroughly Disney-fied. I haven't read the novel myself, but apparently it's very dark and even depressive. The charactes are all corrupted and feeble, no true heroes or heroines. (A cynic might say, more realistic.) Sex plays a major role (and not always in very nice contexts) and almost everyone dies a horrible death. Somehow I think the Disney version is enough for me.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame was one of the last true Disney classics (there were good films like Hercules, Mulan and Lilo & Stitch after. Yeah, I kind of like Lilo & Stitch.). After it Pixar started to take over (which, as we know today, isn't a bad thing at all), and Disney itself has released mainly lousy sequels. I haven't seen the most recent animation, The Princess and the Frog, but somehow I feel it won't top Hunchback, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, etc...

But still. Thank god for Disney.

"Now here is a riddle / To guess if you can / Sing the bells of Notre Dame / Who is the monster / And who is the man?/ Sing the bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells / Bells of Notre Dame"

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