The Hunchback of Notre Dame
This review is the hardest one for me. Over all the Disney films The Hunchback of Notre Dame is by and far my favorite. It has dark themes, a melodramatic story, inclusion of religion, a villain who outright explains his motives... I find this film to be absolutely amazing and still in my top 5 favorite movies of all time, not just Disney films. So, being objective and ranking it among the Disney Canon as a Disney film is rough, but I'm giving it a go.
Of all Disney films this one gets the most complaints about it veering away from the origin text. To be fair it is a very different story than the book, Notre Dame de Paris, which is my favorite book also. Instead this film is inspired by that book and is more similar to a children comic book adaptation and a libretto to a Hunchback opera that Victor Hugo wrote himself. It is also one of the most controversial Disney films due to the film being boycotted by multiple religious groups, most notably the Southern Baptist Convention.
Despite all the controversy it still made over four times its budget in the box office making it a successful venture for Disney. It also received an academy award nomination although took home no trophies.
The story line of Hunchback is dark and twisted. It is loosely about the nature of man whether or not good and evil come from within. It is the exact same message that is delivered in Beauty and the Beast, another very good Disney film that takes place in France. There are tons of adult themes here that make it an interesting film but probably hurt it in terms of the Disney Canon. The New York Times looked back at the movie in 2021 and called it "The most R rated G you will ever see".
The characters in this one are much less cartoonish. Frollo is a dark and scary character that roots his motives in religion. Quasimodo is a sensitive type that is just looking for acceptance. Esmerelda is the defiant gypsy who refuses to accept the worst of the world. They are characters that share traits, share worldviews, but twist them to their own experiences. There are also some Disnyesque comedic characters that take away from the seriousness of the film, but help it as a Disney movie. Funny thing, one of the characters is Esmerelda's sidekick, a goat named Djali, who is actually in the original book.
The animation is sort of on par with Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast. It is very Disney iconic, but feeling a little overdone by this point. It takes steps above Pocahontas due to its deep work with the backgrounds as the city streets of Paris.
The music here is some of Disney's best in my opinion. The score is phenomenal and encompasses the religious themes perfectly. Every song is interesting and pushes the story forward with the exception of A Guy Like You which was a comedic relief song. Hellfire is my favorite Disney song and was the leading scene that almost got the movie a PG rating over a G.
Disney did try monetize this film, but over the years it hasn't really worked. They had a straight to video sequel, a play, toys, a stage show in the parks, and even an attempt at a live action remake. But over the years it has kind of fallen by the wayside, even the live action has been put on hold due to Disney not wanting to address the same themes and content thirty years later.
I would love to say this is the best Disney film and by definitions of great film I believe it. But from the idea of Disney, a company that focuses on families and child inclusive stories. One that how well they themes and characters infuse into the parks, music, and television. I can't say that it tops the list.
Run Time – 91 Minutes
69th Academy Awards – 1 Nomination – 0 Wins
Best Original Comedy or Musical Score – Nominated
Disney Animated Canon so far in order of Quality
1. Beauty and the Beast 9-29-1991
2. The Hunchback of Notre Dame 6-21-1996
3. Lady and the Tramp 6-22-1955
4. Aladdin 11-25-1992
5. Peter Pan 2-5-1953
6. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh 3-11-1977
7. One Hundred and One Dalmatians 1-25-1961
8. The Lion King 6-15-1994
9. Dumbo 10-23-1941
10. The Fox and the Hound 7-10-1981
11. Oliver and Company 11-18-1988
12. Cinderella 2-15-1950
13. The Little Mermaid 11-17-1989
14. Pinocchio 2-7-1940
15. Sleeping Beauty 1-29-1959
16. The Adventure of Ichabod and Mr. Toad 10-5-1949
17. The Jungle Book 10-18-1967
18. The Great Mouse Detective 7-2-1986
19. Robin Hood 11-8-1973
20. The Rescuers Down Under 11-16-1990
21. Make Mine Music 4-20-1946
22. Fun and Fancy Free 9-27-1947
23. The Aristocats 12-11-1970
24. Pocahontas 6-23-1995
25. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 12-21-1937
26. Saludos Amigos 8-24-1942
27. The Sword in the Stone 12-25-1963
28. The Rescuers 6-22-1977
29. Alice in Wonderland 7-26-1951
30. The Black Cauldron 7-24-1985
31. Melody Time 5-27-1948
32. Bambi 8-13-1942
33. Fantasia 11-13-1940
34. The Three Caballeros 12-21-1944