Walt Disney Studios has largely made its fame on taking classic literary stories and adapting them for the big screen. For the most part, doing so has led to great success for Disney. So it goes without saying that when Disney’s heads decided to bring Victor Hugo’s literary classic, The Hunchback of Notre Dame to audiences in animated form doing so was a pretty big risk. That is because this is hardly the happiest of stories. Somehow though, Disney managed to pull off the job and craft what should be considered to be one of the company’s modern classics. Whereas its renditions of The Jungle Book, Peter Pan, Cinderella and others are considered the company’s original classics, its take on Hugo’s literary masterpiece fits nicely into the category of modern classics. This is the case for a variety of reasons. In watching this rendition, one can’t help but be taken back to Disney’s golden era. From the subtlety of the mix of hand drawn and digital animation, to the big song cues to the animation, one actually feels as if one is actually watching a stage presentation made into an animated film. And while it may be a little bit scary for younger audiences with its darker elements, it still stands as one of the better works in Disney’s modern era.
Viewers that closely watch the newly re-issued Hunchback of Notre Dame I/II combo pack will catch a subtlety that others might not that harkens back to Disney’s golden era. That subtlety is a mix of animation styles. There are a handful of scenes throughout this movie that show on one side, the rougher, less “streamlined” animation style sitting side by side. This is explained briefly in the original “Making of featurette” that was included in the movie’s previous release. Actor Jason Alexander (Seinfeld) explains the reality behind the misconception that all animation done for Disney movies—at the time—was done by computer. The difference between the hand drawn animation and digital animation is pretty clear. And the very fact that animators tried to duplicate the animation of Disney’s famed “Nine Old Men” even in the slightest in this feature makes it worthy of at least a little bit of respect.
If the attempt by animators to replicate the animation of Disney’s most famed animators isn’t enough for viewers, then perhaps the story’s musical numbers will help win over audiences. Composer Alan Menken returned for this movie after having massive success nearly a decade prior on another of Disney’s biggest modern classics in The Little Mermaid. The animation works in tandem with the big musical numbers to really leave viewers feeling like they are watching a stage presentation in animated form. That’s even more the case now that the movie has been re-issued on Blu-ray. There is just a certain quality on which one can’t put one’s finger that pulls audiences in and makes the story believable. That’s the sign of a quality work.
If the song cues and the animation aren’t enough, then the movie’s more comical moments will entertain audiences. Even in some of the movie’s darker moments, the story’s writers come up with some pretty funny moments to help lighten the mood. A prime example of this comes late in the movie, in the final showdown sequence. As Quasimodo and Frollo face off in the cathedral’s tower, soldiers are below, trying to break in. Laverne (voiced by the late Mary Wickers) helps in the fight by calling on a large group of birds. This moment is a tribute not just to the classic Warner Brothers movie, The Wizard of Oz, but also to Alfred Hitchcock’s horror classic, The Birds. While the latter tribute may have been unintentional, it is there. It’s just one of so many moments that will have viewers laughing. Add in Jason Alexander’s comedic timing and viewers get more than enough laughs to offset the movie’s darker moments. Those darker moments being offset and the movie’s enjoyable musical numbers and hybrid animation together make The Hunchback of Notre Dame one of the better movies from Disney’s modern era. One might even go so far as to call it one of Disney’s modern classics. It is available now on Blu-ray/DVD combo pack in stores and online. It can be ordered direct from the Disney store at http://www.disneystore.com/the-hunchback-of-notre-dame-blu-ray-and-dvd-combo-pack/mp/1331583/1000316/ and at the Disney DVD store at http://disneydvd.disney.go.com/the-hunchback-of-notre-dame-two-movie-collection.html.
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