This is probably the first recognizable Disney movie I have written about. Almost every Disney article, or fan I know has said this movie, loosely based on the Victor Hugo novel, is heavily underrated and I 100% agree. While it is probably not as good as more well known Disney films I think this film should get the recognition it deserves. Once again if you have not seen this movie spoilers ahead.
In the 15th century Paris, France a story is recapped prior to the main plot, courtesy of the gypsy Clopin (Paul Kandel). A group of gypsies were sneaking into Paris but were caught by the self-righteous Judge Claude Frollo (Tony Jay) and his soldiers. Frollo hates gypsies and takes it upon himself and his troops to end them once and for all believe it to be his mission from God. A woman escapes with her baby and when trying to seek sanctuary in Notre Dame, Frollo catches up and kills the woman. He seems the baby is deformed, calling him a monster, and is about to drop the baby down a well before the Archdeacon (David Ogden Stiers) stops him. After be told he has sinned in front of the eyes of Notre Dame and he must atone for it, Frollo reluctantly cares for the child he names Quasimodo (Tom Hulce) which means half formed and places him in the bell tower to be hidden from the world, hence the title of the movie.
20 years pass and Quasimodo has grown into a kind man, but feels isolated in the bell tower with only three living gargoyles for company: Victor (Charles Kimbrough), Hugo (Jason Alexander) and Laverne (Mary Wickes in her final role). Quasimodo longs for a life outside the tower and during his favorite time of the year, the Festival of Fools where it is okay to be different, sneaks out. He is embraced by the people, and soon becomes smitten with Esmeralda (Demi Moore) a beautiful gypsy who treats him with kindness. Unfortunately thanks to Frollo the crowd turns on Quasimodo and he hides away back in Notre Dame. Esmeralda becomes a target for Frollo, not just because of her being a gypsy but because he has developed a lust for her, and Frollo demands she be found. Captain Phoebus (Kevin Kline), Frollo’s captain of the guards who does not approve of Frollo’s methods and has fallen for Esmeralda helps her and Quasimodo in their fight against the cruel judge. I cannot go more without spoiling, I am sorry.
Now if you haven’t seen this movie I’m sure you are thinking this: “This is a kids movie!” Yes, it is. Now as a child when I watched the movie I had no idea of the aspects that makes this a dark Disney film, but that’s it. When you are a kid you do not know any better, but then you watch the films as an adult and go “how did I miss that?” In just one music number alone it shows how dark this movie is, but that is what I think makes this film stand out. It is probably not a movie I would show a child until they are a little older, my opinion go seven and up.
Moving on, I absolutely love everything about this movie. The characters are so entertaining whether they are funny, conflicted or, in Frollo’s case, evil, they make you pay attention to movie. Quasimodo is a unique character, not saying that just because of his appearance, as he doesn’t let how he looks stop him. Esmeralda is probably my favorite non princess female as she refuses to let men like Frollo get to her. Phoebus is very different in this movie than in the novel as he is kinder and truly cares for Quasimodo and Esmeralda. The gargoyles are the comic relief of the film, and believe me hen I say it is needed. Frollo is one of Disney’s most evil villains as he basically wants to kill an entire population just because, and his lust for Esmeralda just makes him even more creepy. While it doesn’t follow Victor Hugo’s novel exactly, given it is a Disney movie not surprising, it does take the story and make it different, happier if you will.
The soundtrack is in my opinion one of Disney’s best. It doesn’t have any sappy love songs, or conquering hero ballads; instead the songs are often empowering and deep there is a message behind almost all the numbers. Even if you don’t see the movie, although you should, just listen to the soundtrack it is hauntingly beautiful. If you haven’t seen the movie, whether in a long time or never, it is so good. There was a sequel released almost six years later, which I actually plan on reviewing at a later time.