The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Sequel Blu-ray Review

The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Sequel Blu-ray ReviewBy the time Disney released The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the famed animated movie house was on the tail end of its 90’s renaissance period, releasing hit after hit and reaffirming itself as the one true animation powerhouse of its day. While The Hunchback of Notre Dame is quite serviceable, with some compelling animation and a rousing song or two, it is terribly uneven and feels like the beginning of the end of that era of Disney animated films.

The story, based off of Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel of the same name, follows Quasimodo (Tom Hulce), a deformed young man that was orphaned just after birth and taken in by the deplorable Minister of Justice, Frollo (Tony Jay). Quasimodo has been forced to live out his years in the solitude of the grand Notre Dame cathedral, believing himself to be a monster that the public would ridicule on sight, thanks to Frollo’s misleading ways.

One day, Quasimodo does make it outside the walls and, through the aid of a sweet Gypsy girl named Esmeralda (Demi Moore) discovers that he’s been living in fear of his surrogate father’s lies and treachery. Throw in Pheobus (Kevin Kline) as captain of the Frollo’s guards who realizes he may be on the wrong side and the entirely out of place comedic relief of the three gargoyles; Laverne (Mary Wickes), Victor (Charles Kimbrough) and Hugo (Jason Alexander).

My main issue with the film is that it doesn’t really know what kind of film it wants to be. Hunchback has some seriously dark moments and, in all honesty, I love this aspect. Disney is always willing to dip its toes deep into some sadness, but there are moments in this film, especially when Quasimodo is being assaulted by the townspeople, that are just dark and heavy.

The problem comes when the film decides to get super slap-sticky amidst this darkness. Maybe the filmmakers realized just how dark of a film they were making and were attempting to make attempts at levity and to keep the film from being a total bummer, but it really just makes it come off as slightly a mess.

There are some good aspects to be found within the film, though. The animation is quite brilliant and is one of the finer examples of 2D and computer generated art blending together. The film does tout on its cover having songs created by the team behind The Little Mermaid’s unbelievably strong and catchy tunes. While the ones here don’t even come close to comparing, there are a couple standouts.

Despite the obvious confusion with its overall theme, The Hunchback of Notre Dame still manages to maintain a bit of that Disney magic in making a compelling tale of overcoming adversity. In this case, I appreciate that, while love is the obvious route, in the end Quasimodo ends up becoming better for himself, which is a far more rewarding message than many of the “Happily Ever Afters” could ever hope to be.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Sequel Blu-ray Review
High-Def Presentation

Disney has brought The Hunchback of Notre Dame to Blu-ray with a fairly impressive MPEG-4 AVC Encoded transfer. I love seeing animation in the High-Def format, allowing the viewer to really enjoy the artwork on display and this release is no exception. Incredibly strong color palette that helps breathe life into the characters as well as the setting, making it a character all its own. There is little to no noise or artifacting to be found throughout.

Coming in even better than the visual transfer is the sound mix Disney has provided for the film. With a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix, the overall soundscape is quite impressive. Ambient noise fills the rears while a sense of movement carries through the entire range throughout the film. Dialogue is clear and centered. The music creates quite an impressive atmosphere and is obviously the highlight of the film’s track. The music can at times be a bit uneven and overpower the singing, but it’s never to the point that it’s unintelligible.

Beyond The Feature

While there are some special features included here, most of them have all ported over from the previous DVD releases and remain in standard definition. Most are typical fluff pieces and feature Jason Alexander quite prominently as a host of sorts. I am also including The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2 as a special feature, as it really pales in comparison to the original film and is really only worth a passing glance.

  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2 Feature Length Film (HD, 68 min)
  • Audio Commentary
  • The Making of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (SD, 28 min)
  • Multi-Language Reel (SD, 3 min)
  • Behind the Scenes of The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2 (SD, 5 min)
  • A Gargoyle’s Life (SD, 3 min)
  • Sneak Peaks and Trailers (HD, 9 min)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a film on the tail end of Disney’s heyday and unfortunately it kind of shows. Despite a strong story, the film is thematically uneven, which is a shame as I wish it embraced its darker elements. It does feature some wonderful hand-drawn animation and a couple of stirring songs. Add to that a strong PQ and AQ presentation and a fair amount of special features and it does add up to a worthwhile package. While not the classic one would hope it to be, it’s still got enough Disney magic to deserve a place on your shelf.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Sequel Blu-ray Review

out of 5

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