The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996 film)
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The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a 1996 American animated musical drama film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and released by Walt Disney Pictures. The 34th Disney animated feature film and the seventh produced during the Disney Renaissance, the film is based on the 1831 novel of the same name by Victor Hugo. The plot centers on Quasimodo, the deformed bell-ringer of Notre Dame, and his struggle to gain acceptance into society. Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, the film's voice cast features Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Tony Jay, Kevin Kline, Paul Kandel, Jason Alexander, Charles Kimbrough, David Ogden Stiers, and Mary Wickes in her final film role.
|The Hunchback of Notre Dame|
|Story by||Tab Murphy|
|Based on||The Hunchback of Notre-Dame|
by Victor Hugo
|Produced by||Don Hahn|
|Edited by||Ellen Keneshea|
|Music by||Alan Menken|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Pictures|
|Box office||$325.3 million|
The film is considered to be one of Disney's darkest animated films as its narrative explores such mature themes as infanticide, lust, damnation, antiziganism, genocide, and sin, despite the changes made from the original source material in order to ensure a G rating received by the MPAA. The musical score was written by Alan Menken, with songs written by Menken and lyricist Stephen Schwartz, who had previously collaborated on Pocahontas (1995). The pair later also collaborated on 2007's Enchanted.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame was released on June 21, 1996, to generally positive reviews and a commercial success, grossing over $325 million worldwide and becoming the fifth highest-grossing release of 1996. The film received Academy Award and Golden Globe Award nominations for its musical score. A darker, more gothic stage adaptation of the film was produced by Walt Disney Theatrical in 1999. A direct-to-video sequel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, was released in 2002.
In 1482 Paris, Clopin, a Gypsy puppeteer, narrates the origin of the titular hunchback twenty years prior. In 1462, a group of Gypsies sneak illegally into Paris but are ambushed by Judge Claude Frollo, Paris' Minister of Justice, and his soldiers. A Gypsy woman in the group attempts to flee with her crying baby, as Frollo gives chase on his horse; she reaches the doors of Notre Dame, pleading for 'Sanctuary!' as Frollo closes in on her - he snatches the bundle of what he believes to be 'stolen goods', fatally kicking her backwards against the cathedral's stairs where she strikes her head and dies. Shocked that the bundle is in fact a baby, then repulsed at its deformed appearance, Frollo attempts to drown the child in a well, but the cathedral's archdeacon intervenes and accuses Frollo of murdering an innocent woman in front of the 'eyes of Notre Dame' - the statues of saints and the Virgin Mary that look down on the cathedral. To atone for his sin, Frollo reluctantly agrees to raise the deformed child as his own, naming him "Quasimodo", to mean 'half-formed', and hiding him away in the cathedral's bell tower.
Twenty years later, back in 1482, Quasimodo develops into a kind yet isolated young man, though still deformed and now with a pronounced hunchback who has lived inside the cathedral his entire life. A trio of living stone gargoyles—Victor, Hugo, and Laverne—serve as Quasimodo's only company and encourage him to attend the annually-held Festival of Fools. Despite Frollo's warnings that he would be shunned for his deformity, Quasimodo attends the festival and is celebrated for his awkward appearance, only to be humiliated by the crowd after two of Frollo's guards start a riot. Frollo refuses to help Quasimodo, but Esmeralda, a kind gypsy, intervenes by freeing the hunchback, and uses a magic trick to evade arrest. Frollo confronts Quasimodo and sends him back inside the cathedral.
Esmeralda follows Quasimodo inside, only to be followed by Captain Phoebus of Frollo's guard. Phoebus refuses to arrest her for alleged witchcraft inside Notre Dame and instead tells Frollo that she has claimed asylum inside the church; the archdeacon orders Frollo and his men out. Esmeralda finds and befriends Quasimodo, who helps her escape Notre Dame out of gratitude for defending him. She entrusts Quasimodo, a pendant containing a map to the gypsies' hideout, the Court of Miracles. Frollo soon develops lustful feelings for Esmeralda and, upon realizing them, begs the Virgin Mary to save him from her "spell" to avoid eternal damnation. When Frollo discovers that she escaped, he instigates a citywide search for her, which involves bribing and arresting gypsies and setting fire to countless houses in his way. Horrified when Frollo orders him to burn down a house with a family inside, Phoebus openly defies him, and Frollo orders him executed. While fleeing, Phoebus is struck by an arrow and falls into the River Seine, but Esmeralda rescues him and takes him to Notre Dame for refuge. The gargoyles encourage Quasimodo to confess his feelings for Esmeralda, but he is heartbroken to discover she and Phoebus have fallen in love.
Frollo returns to Notre Dame later that night and discovers that Quasimodo helped Esmeralda escape. He bluffs to Quasimodo, saying that he knows about the Court of Miracles and intends to attack at dawn with 1,000 men. Using the map Esmeralda gave him, Quasimodo and Phoebus find the court to warn the gypsies, only for Frollo to follow them and capture all the gypsies present.
Frollo prepares to burn Esmeralda at the stake after rejecting his advances, but Quasimodo rescues her and brings her to the cathedral. Phoebus releases the gypsies and rallies the Paris citizens against Frollo and his men, who try to break into the cathedral. Quasimodo and the gargoyles pour molten lead onto the streets to ensure no one enters, but Frollo successfully manages to get inside. He pursues Quasimodo and Esmeralda to the balcony where he and Quasimodo fight, and both fall over the edge. Frollo falls to his death in the molten lead, while Phoebus catches Quasimodo on a lower floor. Afterward, Quasimodo accepts that Phoebus and Esmeralda are in love, and he gives them his blessing. The two encourage him to leave the cathedral into the outside world, where the citizens hail him as a hero and accept him into society.
- Tom Hulce as Quasimodo, Notre Dame Cathedral's 20-year-old hunchbacked bell ringer who dreams of seeing life outside the bell tower. Despite the fact that Quasimodo is being constantly told by his guardian Judge Claude Frollo that he is an ugly monster, Clopin's opening song asks listeners to judge for themselves "who is the monster and who is the man" of the two. James Baxter served as the supervising animator for Quasimodo.
- Demi Moore as Esmeralda (singing voice by Heidi Mollenhauer), a beautiful, streetwise Gypsy dancing girl who befriends Quasimodo and shows him that his soul is truly beautiful, even if his exterior is not. Highly independent and strong-minded, she abhors Frollo's prejudice and cruel treatment of gypsies and other outcasts in Paris, and seeks justice for them throughout the film. She falls in love with (and later marries) Captain Phoebus. Tony Fucile served as the supervising animator for Esmeralda.
- Tony Jay as Judge Claude Frollo, a ruthless, self-righteous and religiously pious Minister of Justice of Paris who is Quasimodo's reluctant guardian. Due to his god complex, he believes that he is above everyone else and can do no wrong, and that the world around him is full of corruption except within himself. This is shown by his intense hatred of the gypsy population and his desire to wipe out their entire race. Like his original character in Victor Hugo's novel, Frollo displays a sadistic and lustful obsession with Esmeralda. Frollo generally believes all he does is in God's will, despite frequent disagreements with the cathedral's Archdeacon. Kathy Zielinski served as the supervising animator for Frollo.
- Kevin Kline as Captain Phoebus, a soldier who is Frollo's Captain of the Guard. He does not approve of Frollo's methods and saves people whenever they are in danger, including his love interest Esmeralda, whom he falls in love with and later marries. Russ Edmonds served as the supervising animator for Phoebus and Achilles (his horse is voiced by Bob Bergen, who also voices baby Quasimodo).
- Paul Kandel as Clopin Trouillefou, a puppeteer, storyteller, and mischievous leader of all the gypsies and thieves of Paris. Michael Surrey served as the supervising animator for Clopin.
- Charles Kimbrough, Jason Alexander, and Mary Wickes as Victor, Hugo, and Laverne, three comical gargoyle statues who are Quasimodo's best friends and guardians. This was Wickes' final acting performance; she died a year before its release, at age 85. Jane Withers provided the remaining dialogue for Laverne in the film's sequel and related merchandise. David Pruiksma served as the supervising animator for Victor and Hugo, while Will Finn served as the supervising animator for Laverne.
- David Ogden Stiers as the Archdeacon, the unnamed head priest at Notre Dame and a kind man who helps many characters throughout the film, including Quasimodo and Esmeralda, while disapproving of Frollo's actions. Dave Burgess served as the supervising animator for the Archdeacon.
- Mary Kay Bergman as Djali, Esmeralda's pet goat, and Hugo's love interest. Ron Husband served as the supervising animator for Djali.
- Bergman also voices Quasimodo's Mother, the unnamed mother of Quasimodo who is accidentally killed by Frollo.
- Frank Welker as a baby bird that Quasimodo persuades to fly away.
- Corey Burton as Brutish Guard, a brutish member of Frollo's soldiers. Frollo referred to this one as a captain.
- Burton also voices a miller whose home is burned by Frollo.
- Bill Fagerbakke as Oafish Guard, an oafish member of Frollo's Guard. Phoebus referred to this one as a lieutenant.
- Gary Trousdale as The Old Heretic, a prisoner and a minor character in the film who dreams to be free. As a minor recurring gag, he accidentally gets freed from one prison, but then is trapped in another prison.
- Bob Bergen as Achilles, Phoebus' horse.
- Jim Cummings, Patrick Pinney, and Philip Proctor voice the miscellaneous guards that work for Frollo.
- Cummings and Pinney also voice the gypsies in the Court of Miracles.
The idea to adapt The Hunchback of Notre Dame came from development executive David Stainton in 1993, who was inspired to turn Victor Hugo's novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame into an animated feature film after reading the Classics Illustrated comic book adaptation. Stainton then proposed the idea to then-studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg. Following Beauty and the Beast, Gary Trousdale had taken the opportunity to take a break from directing, instead spending several months developing storyboards for The Lion King. Following this, Trousdale and Kirk Wise subsequently attempted developing an animated feature based on the Greek myth of Orpheus titled A Song of the Sea, adapting it to make the central character a humpback whale and setting it in the open ocean. The concept obstinately refused to pull together, but while they were working on the project they were summoned to meet with Katzenberg. "During that time," explained Trousdale, "while we working on it, we got a call from Jeffrey. He said, 'Guys, drop everything – you're working on Hunchback now.'" According to Wise, they believed that it had "a great deal of potential... great memorable characters, a really terrific setting, the potential for fantastic visuals, and a lot of emotion."
Production on The Hunchback of Notre Dame went underway in the summer of 1993. In October 1993, directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, art director David Goetz, Roy Conli, Ed Ghertner, Will Finn, Alan Menken, and Stephen Schwartz took a trip to Paris, France, for ten days; three days were devoted to exploring Notre Dame including a private tour of rarely glimpsed sites as actual passageways, stairwells, towers, and a hidden room within which Hugo set his actions. Also included were visits to the Palace of Justice and an original location of the Court of Miracles.
"We knew it would be a challenge to stay true to the material while still giving it the requisite amount of fantasy and fun most people would expect from a Disney animated feature. We were not going to end it the way the book ended, with everybody dead."
Writer Tab Murphy was brought on board to write the screenplay, and it was decided early on that Quasimodo would be the center of the story, as he was in preceding live-action film adaptations. In the early drafts, Quasimodo served as a Cyrano between Phoebus and Esmeralda, but it was discarded to focus more on Quasimodo. Meanwhile, a love story between Quasimodo and Esmeralda was also conceived, according to Murphy, but "we decided to make Phoebus more heroic and central to the story. Out of that decision grew the idea of some sort of a triangle between Quasimodo, Esmeralda and Phoebus." Some of the novel's key characters were jettisoned entirely. The gargoyles of Notre Dame were added to the story by Trousdale and Wise. Their portrayal as comedic friends and confidantes of Quasimodo was inspired by a portion of the novel, which reads "The other statues, the ones of monsters and demons, felt no hatred for Quasimodo…The saints were his friends and blessed him the monsters were his friends, and protected him. Thus he would pour out his heart at length to them."
One of the first changes made to accommodate Disney's request was to turn the villainous Claude Frollo into a judge rather than an archdeacon, thus avoiding religious sensibilities in the finished film. "As we were exploring the characters, especially Frollo, we certainly found a lot of historical parallels to the type of mania he had: the Confederate South, Nazi Germany, take your pick," explained Wise. "Those things influenced our thinking." Producer Don Hahn evaluated that one inspiration for Frollo was found in Ralph Fiennes's performance as Amon Goeth in Schindler's List, who murders Jews yet desires his Jewish maid. For the opening sequence, Disney story veteran Burny Mattinson constructed an effective sequence that covered much exposition, although studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg felt something was missing. Following Stephen Schwartz's suggestion to musicalize the sequence, French animators Paul and Gaëtan Brizzi storyboarded the sequence to Menken and Schwartz's music resulting in "The Bells of Notre Dame." Lyricist Stephen Schwartz also worked closely with the writing team even suggesting that the audience should be left wondering what the outcome of what Phoebus would do before he extinguishes the torch in water in retaliation against Frollo. Another was, unsurprisingly, the film's conclusion. While Frollo's death was retained – and, indeed, made even more horrific – Quasimodo and Esmeralda were both spared their fates and given a happy ending. This revised ending was based in part on Victor Hugo's own libretto to a Hunchback opera, in which he had permitted Captain Phoebus to save Esmeralda from her execution.
In late 1993, pop singer Cyndi Lauper was the first actor attached to the film during its initial stages. Thinking she was cast as Esmeralda, Lauper was startled to learn she was to voice a gargoyle named Quinn, and was hired one week after one reading with the directors, who felt her performance was "hilarious and sweet". The development team later came up with the names of Chaney, Laughton and Quinn – named after the actors who portrayed Quasimodo in preceding Hunchback film adaptations. However, Disney's legal department objected to the proposed names of the gargoyles, fearing that the estates of Lon Chaney, Charles Laughton, or Anthony Quinn (who was still alive at the time) would file a lawsuit over using their names so the names were dropped. Trousdale and Wise then suggested naming the characters Lon, Charles, and Anthony – which would have resulted in the same legal concern – before naming the first two gargoyles after Victor Hugo, and the third gargoyle after Andrews Sisters singer Laverne Andrews.
Now cast as Laverne, Lauper was deemed too youthful for a friend to provide Quasimodo wise counsel while at the same time Sam McMurray—best known for his work on The Tracey Ullman Show—was hired for Hugo. Meanwhile, Charles Kimbrough was cast as Victor, who was initially unimpressed at an animated adaptation of Hunchback, but later became rather impressed at the level of research that went into the film and how the story ideas transitioned from the novel to the screen. After several recording sessions and test screenings, Lauper and McMurray were called by the directors who regretfully released them from their roles. At one point, Jeffrey Katzenberg had considered Arsenio Hall, David Letterman, and Jay Leno to voice the gargoyles. Ultimately, Jason Alexander, having voiced Abis Mal in The Return of Jafar, was cast as Hugo fulfilling a lifelong desire to be in a Disney film. After a suggestion by supervising animator Will Finn, Laverne was then re-envisioned into a wiser, mature character with Mary Wickes cast in the role. Following Wickes' death in October 1995, Jane Withers was hired to voice her six remaining lines.
Katzenberg had also wanted Meat Loaf for the role of Quasimodo, but he passed on the role after Disney couldn't come to an agreement with his record company. Mandy Patinkin was also approached for the title role, but his style of portraying Quasimodo collided with the producers' demands, and Patinkin stated "'I [was] just there at the audition [and I] said, 'I can't do this.'" Tom Hulce was cast as Quasimodo following his first audition for the role, and according to the actor, he noticed during the audition that the Disney executives, producers, and directors "were staring at the floor. It looked like everyone was at a memorial service" until he noticed the floor was lined with storyboard sketches. According to Wise, the filmmakers "like to audition the voices with our eyes closed, so we see the character's face." Quasimodo was originally portrayed as more monstrous, older and with more of a speech impediment during the early rehearsals, but Hulce commented that "we experimented, endlessly. At one point I was ready to call in and say 'Things just aren't happening'." Ultimately, the directors desired to portray Quasimodo with a younger voice different from the previous portrayals since "[Victor] Hugo described Quasimodo as 20." Additionally, Hulce was permitted to do his own singing after performing a demo recording of "Out There."
Desiring a huskier voice different from the leading Disney heroines, Demi Moore was cast as Esmeralda, and met with Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz on singing. After several singing demos, the actress said "You'd better get someone else,'" according to Schwartz. New York City cabaret singer Heidi Mollenhauer was selected to provide the singing voice. For the role of Phoebus, co-director Kirk Wise explained that "As we're designing the characters, we form a short list of names...to help us find the personality of the character." Subsequently, the filmmakers modeled his portrayal on the personalities of Errol Flynn and John Wayne, and "One of the names on the top of the list all the time was Kevin Kline." Moore and Kline were the only actors to have the role directly offered to them instead of auditioning. British actor Tony Jay, who declared his role as Frollo as his "bid for immortality," was cast after the directors had worked with him in Beauty and the Beast. Anthony Hopkins was originally considered for the role, but he turned down the offer. After watching his portrayal as Uncle Ernie in the musical The Who's Tommy, Broadway actor Paul Kandel was selected to voice Clopin.
Alongside Pocahontas (1995), storyboard work on The Hunchback of the Notre Dame was among the first to be produced for an animated film on the new Disney Feature Animation building adjacent to the main Disney lot in Burbank, which was dedicated in 1995. However, most animators were occupied with The Lion King and Pocahontas at the time, and as a result, more animators were hired from Canada and United Kingdom to join the production team for Hunchback, and as the development phase furthered along, most of the entire animation team was moved out into a large warehouse facility on Airway in Glendale, California. As the Disney story artists, layout crew, and animators moved in their new quarters, they decided to name the building "Sanctuary."
Since Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), other animators hired by Disney Feature Animation were from Germany, France, Ireland, and additional ones from Canada were involved in providing animation duties at the recently opened satellite studio, Walt Disney Animation Paris, of which about 20 percent of the film was done. Meanwhile, while Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida was prepping their first in-house production then titled The Legend of Mulan, at least seven animators penned about four minutes of screen time, mostly involving Frollo and Quasimodo. Layout, cleanup, and special-effects artists provided additional support.
During early development, Trousdale and Wise realized they needed crowds of people, but for this time, they wanted them to move as opposed to being traditionally drawn as painted backdrops. Recalling the wildebeest stampede in The Lion King, they landed on the idea of using computer animation to generate them. For that reason, the CGI department, headed by Kiran Joshi, created the software Crowd to achieve large-scale crowd scenes, particularly for the Feast of Fools sequence and the film's climax. The software was used to create six types of characters – males and females either average in weight, fat, or thin – which were programmed and assigned 72 specific movements ranging from jumping and clapping. Digital technology also provided a visual sweep that freed Quasimodo to scamper around the cathedral and soar around the plaza to rescue Esmeralda.
Having worked on Pocahontas for a year, Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz were offered multiple film projects to work on when they more or less chose to work on Hunchback being attracted to underlying themes of social outcast and Quasimodo's struggle to break free of the psychological dominance of Frollo, according to Schwartz.
The film has many musical motifs that carry throughout the film, weaving their way in and out of various pieces of music, and having varying timbres depending on the action in the story at that point. The film's soundtrack includes a musical score written by Alan Menken and songs written by Menken and Stephen Schwartz. Songs include "The Bells of Notre Dame" for Clopin, Frollo and the Archdeacon, "Out There" for Quasimodo and Frollo, "Topsy Turvy" for Clopin, "God Help the Outcasts" for Esmeralda, "Heaven's Light" for Quasimodo, "Hellfire" for the Archdeacon and Frollo, "A Guy Like You" for the gargoyles and "The Court of Miracles" for Clopin and the gypsies.
Three songs written for the film were discarded for the storyboarding process. Trousdale and Wise were not certain what musical number could be placed for the third act, though Menken and Schwartz conceived two love songs, "In a Place of Miracles" and "As Long as There's a Moon," between Esmeralda and Phoebus in the film. However, Trousdale and Wise felt the song took too much focus off of Quasimodo, and ultimately decided to have Clopin sing about sentencing Phoebus and Quasimodo to death for finding their gypsy hideout. Menken and Schwartz had also written "Someday" originally for the film, but the directors suggested that a religious song be sung in the cathedral, and the song was instead featured in the end credits. R&B group All-4-One recorded the song for the end credits of the North American English release, and by the British R&B girl group Eternal in the British English version. Luis Miguel recorded the version for the Latin American Spanish version, which became a major hit.
Themes and interpretations
The Hunchback of Notre Dame's thematic concerns include infanticide, lust, damnation, and sin, as well as the belief in a loving, forgiving God. It also implies, according to Mark Pinsky, a "condemnation of abortion, euthanasia, and racism, and [a] moral resistance to genocide."
The Hunchback of Notre Dame was the first – and currently only – Disney animated feature to have a major focus on traditional religious faith; in this case, pre-Reformation Catholicism. In fact, the words "God," "Lord," and "Hell" are uttered more times in this film than in any other produced by Disney. The Gospel According to Disney explains that "it is the church...that interposes, or attempts to interpose itself between the villain and his evil intentions." The creative team and the studio executives did butt heads on various issues, especially those relating to the religious content in the story, "for their failure to defend the poor and the powerless" and concerns that the story was "too controversial." Deconstructing Disney notes that the studio "approached the name of God with an almost Hebraic zeal (that it should never be stated) yet here it is invoked in a manner both pious and puritan." Many of the songs were adapted from genuine Latin prayers and chants, such as "Hellfire," which uses the Tridentine form of the Confiteor as a counterpoint melody. The association of the Church with a form of evil leadership by a man who is "[a religious leader] in almost all respects except the title" "implies a church that is ineffective if not full of vice," the same criticism Hugo gave in his novel. The Gospel According to Disney includes a quote that says "religion... appears as an impotent, irrelevant caricature [and] Disney refuses to admit a serious role for religion." At one point, the archdeacon says to Esmeralda, "You can't right all the wrongs of this world by yourself... perhaps there is someone in here who can," referring to God. This questions the power religious people actually have in making the world a moral and happy place.
Frollo is a complex figure who is torn between "good and evil; chastity and lust." While the church represents "the spirit of a Christian God," this is juxtaposed by the cruel actions and snap judgements of Frollo, who claims to be doing God's work. The Gospel According to Disney explains that "while Frollo's stated goal is to purge the world of vice and sin, according to the opening song, he 'saw corruption everywhere except within.'" Because "killing the woman on the steps has put Frollo's soul in mortal danger," he has to take the child and look after him as penance. Even then, he absolves himself of agency in the murder by claiming "God works in mysterious ways," and ponders whether "the child may be of use to him one day." During the song "God Help the Outcasts," Esmeralda brings up the point that Jesus – the person in whose name religious people such as Frollo persecute and subjugate "children of God" – was in fact an outcast too.
According to the film's production notes, Quasimodo is "symbolically viewed as being an angel in a devil's body." He is "trapped between heaven above [and] the gritty streets of urban Paris viewed as Hell." The version of the alphabet Quasimodo recites in a daily ritual reflects Frollo's view of the world – full of abominations and blasphemy. He is also constantly reminded he is deformed, ugly, a monster, and an outcast who would be hated if he ever left the confines of the church.
The film also criticizes materialism. When Esmeralda sings "God Help The Outcasts," she "walks in the opposite direction of more prosperous worshipers who are praying for material and earthly rewards." One literary device included in the song is the use of contrast and irony; the rich citizens pray for wealth, fame and "for glory to shine on their names" while the destitute Esmeralda prays for the poor and downtrodden.
In 1994, the film was scheduled for a Christmas 1995 release, though the film was reportedly delayed following the departure of Jeffrey Katzenberg from the Walt Disney Company. By January 1995, it was later pushed back to a summer 1996 release. The film premiered on June 19, 1996, at the New Orleans Superdome, where it was played on six enormous screens. The premiere was preceded by a parade through the French Quarter, beginning at Jackson Square and utilizing floats and cast members from Walt Disney World. The film was widely released two days later.
As part of the promotion of the film, Walt Disney Records shipped two million products, including sing-along home videos, soundtrack CD's, and the "My First Read Along" novelized version of the film, aimed at a toddler demographic. Upon release, The Hunchback of Notre Dame was accompanied by a marketing campaign at more than $40 million with commercial tie-ins with Burger King, Payless Shoes, Nestlé and Mattel. By 1997, Disney earned approximately $500 million in profit with the spin-off products based from the film.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame was first released on VHS, standard CLV Laserdisc, and special edition CAV Laserdisc on March 4, 1997, under the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection label. Sales and rentals of the VHS release eventually accumulated to $200 million by summer 1998. It was originally planned for a DVD release in December 2000 as part of the Walt Disney Gold Classic Collection, but instead, it was re-issued on March 19, 2002, as a special edition along with its direct-to-video sequel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame grossed $21.3 million in its opening weekend, placing it in second place at the box office behind Eraser. In a new box office strategy, Disney also included ticket sales which were sold from Disney Stores nationwide, which added about $1 million to the box-office numbers. However, in comparison to Pocahontas, which had grossed $29 million the year previous, Buena Vista Pictures Distribution president Dick Cook defended the results claiming it was comparable to Beauty and the Beast (1991), which opened in half as many theaters, and grossed about $9 million.
The film ultimately grossed just over $100.1 million domestically. In foreign markets, by December 1996, the film became the fifteenth film that year to gross over $100 million, and went on to accumulate $225.2 million, surpassing Pocahontas' $204.5 million international gross. Worldwide, The Hunchback of Notre Dame grossed over $325.3 million, making it the fifth highest-grossing film of 1996.
Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 71% positive rating based on 56 reviews, along with an average rating of 7.14/10. The consensus reads, "Disney's take on the Victor Hugo classic is dramatically uneven, but its strong visuals, dark themes, and message of tolerance make for a more-sophisticated-than-average children's film." Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 from top reviews from mainstream critics, calculated a score of 74 based on 28 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews." Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.
Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert rewarded the film 4 stars, calling it "the best Disney animated feature since Beauty and the Beast – a whirling, uplifting, thrilling story with a heart touching message that emerges from the comedy and song." In his written review for the Chicago Tribune, Gene Siskel awarded the film 3½ (out of a possible 4) stars describing the film as "a surprisingly emotional, simplified version of the Victor Hugo novel" with "effective songs and, yes, tasteful bits of humor." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly graded the film an A in his review and labeled it: "the best of Disney's 'serious' animated features in the multiplex era, (...) an emotionally rounded fairy tale that balances darkness and sentimentality, pathos and triumph, with uncanny grace."
Richard Corliss of Time magazine praised the film, stating that "the result is a grand cartoon cathedral, teeming with gargoyles and treachery, hopeless love and tortured lust" and also said "Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz have written the largest, most imposing score yet for an animated film." Charles Spencer of The Daily Telegraph gave it a positive review, saying "it is thrillingly dramatic, and for long stretches you forget you are watching a cartoon at all... A dazzling treat." Variety also gave the film a positive review, stating that "there is much to admire in Hunchback, not least the risk of doing such a downer of a story at all" and also saying: "the new film should further secure Disney's dominance in animation, and connoisseurs of the genre, old and young, will have plenty to savor." Janet Maslin wrote in her The New York Times review: "In a film that bears conspicuous, eager resemblances to other recent Disney hits, the filmmakers' Herculean work is overshadowed by a Sisyphean problem. There's just no way to delight children with a feel-good version of this story."
Upon opening in France in March 1997, reception from French critics towards Hunchback was reported to be "glowing, largely positive." French critics and audiences found resonance in the film which recounted a real-life incident from August 1995 when French police raided a Parisian church and seized over 200 illegal immigrants seeking refuge from deportation under France's strict expulsion laws. "It is difficult not to think of the undocumented immigrants of St. Bernard when Frollo tries to sweep out the rabble," wrote one reviewer.
Some fans of Victor Hugo's novel criticized the movie, expressing disappointment with the changes Disney made to the material. Arnaud Later, a leading scholar on Hugo, accused Disney of simplifying, editing and censoring the novel in numerous aspects, including the personalities of the characters. In his review, he later wrote that the animators "don't have enough confidence in their own emotional feeling" and that the film "falls back on clichés." Descendants of Hugo bashed Disney in an open letter to the Libération newspaper for their ancestor getting no mention on the advertisement posters, and describing the film as a "vulgar commercialization by unscrupulous salesmen."
Criticism additionally generated among viewers over whether the film is too scary or violent for young children, and whether the storyline, which involves issues of sexual obsession and religion, might be too adult. Jason Alexander, who voiced the gargoyle Hugo in the film, noted that while "Disney would have us believe this movie's like the Ringling Bros., for children of all ages," he would not take his then-four-year-old child to view the film. However, some newspaper publications reported child audiences being unaffected by the mature content and praising the film. Further accusations were made of the film having "homosexual undertones," noticeably with the song "Out There," being the name of a gay pressure group and as a call to come out of the closet.
In June 1996, the Southern Baptist Convention voted overwhelmingly to urge its sixteen million members to boycott Disney films, theme parks, and merchandise to protest behavior it believes "disparages Christian values." The cause of the protests – unrelated to the film – stemmed from the company's domestic partnership policy and gay and lesbian theme days at Walt Disney World. Gary Trousdale also claimed that Southern Baptists were outraged over the casting of Demi Moore as Esmeralda, as she had just come off of the controversial Striptease, in which she played an exotic dancer. Disney officials would not comment on the motivation for the religious content displayed in the film beyond comments on the subject included in the film's press kit with Disney vice president John Dreyer commenting, "The film speaks for itself." Nevertheless, there was praise from religious organizations for its portrayal of religion in the film. Louis P. Sheldon, a Presbyterian pastor and chairman of the Anaheim-based Traditional Values Coalition, affirmed two months before its premiere that "I am thrilled at what I hear about Hunchback, that Disney is seeking to honour Christianity and its role in Western civilization. I only pray that it will accomplish much good in the minds and hearts of its viewers."
Following protests in the United States, thousands of British parents banned their kids from seeing The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. In reaction to the controversy, Walt Disney Feature Animation president Peter Schneider said, "The only controversy I've heard about the movie is certain people's opinion that, 'Well, it's OK for me, but it might disturb somebody else." Schneider also stated in his defense that the film was test-screened "all over the country, and I've heard nobody, parents or children, complain about any of the issues. I think, for example, the issue of disabilities is treated with great respect." and "Quasimodo is really the underdog who becomes the hero; I don't think there's anything better for anybody's psychological feelings than to become the hero of a movie. The only thing we've been asked to be careful about is the word hunchback, which we have to use in the title."
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Recipients and nominees||Result|
|Academy Awards||March 24, 1997||Best Music, Original Musical or Comedy Score||Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz||Nominated|
|Annie Awards||1997||Best Animated Feature||Walt Disney Pictures and Walt Disney Feature Animation||Nominated|
|Best Individual Achievement: Animation||Kathy Zielinski||Nominated|
|Best Individual Achievement: Animation||James Baxter||Nominated|
|Directing in an Animated Feature Production||Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise||Nominated|
|Music in an Animated Feature Production||Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz||Nominated|
|Producing in an Animated Feature Production||Don Hahn||Nominated|
|Production Design in an Animated Feature Production||David Goetz||Nominated|
|Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production||Brenda Chapman & Will Finn||Nominated|
|Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production||Tony Jay||Nominated|
|Writing in an Animated Feature Production||Tab Murphy (story), Irene Mecchi, Bob Tzudiker, Noni White, and Jonathan Roberts||Nominated|
|Golden Globe Awards||January 19, 1997||Best Original Score – Motion Picture||Alan Menken||Nominated|
|ASCAP Award||1997||Top Box Office Films||Stephen Schwartz||Won|
|Saturn Awards||July 23, 1997||Best Fantasy Film||N/A||Nominated|
|BMI Film Music Award||1997||N/A||Alan Menken||Won|
|Artios Awards||1997||Best Casting for Animated Voiceover||Ruth Lambert||Won|
|Golden Screen Award||1997||N/A||N/A||Won|
|Golden Reel Awards||1997||Motion Picture Feature Films: Sound Editing||N/A||Won|
|Animated Motion Picture Feature Films: Music Editing||N/A||Won|
|Golden Raspberry Awards||March 23, 1997||Worst Written Film Grossing Over $100 Million||Tab Murphy (story), Irene Mecchi, Bob Tzudiker, Noni White, and Jonathan Roberts||Nominated|
|Satellite Awards||January 15, 1997||Best Motion Picture - Animated or Mixed Media||Don Hahn||Won|
|Young Artist Awards||1997||Best Family Feature – Animation or Special Effects||N/A||Nominated|
|Online Film & Television Association Awards||1996||Best Voice-Over Performance||Jason Alexander||Nominated|
|Best Score||Alan Menken & Stephen Schwartz||Nominated|
|Best Original Song||"Someday" Music by Alan Menken lyrics by Stephen Schwartz||Nominated|
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
The film was adapted into a darker, more Gothic musical production, re-written and directed by James Lapine and produced by Walt Disney Theatrical, in Berlin, Germany. The musical Der Glöckner von Notre Dame (translated in English as The Bellringer of Notre Dame) was very successful and played from 1999 to 2002, before closing. A cast recording was also recorded in German. An English-language revival of the musical premiered in San Diego on October 28, 2014.
Sequels and spin-offs
In June 1998, production on a sequel titled The Hunchback of Notre Dame Deux: The Secret of the Bells was announced, and slated for release in fall 1999. However, the sequel was delayed from its planned fall release in order to accommodate the recording of "I'm Gonna Love You" by Jennifer Love Hewitt. The sequel reunited its original voice cast, with Hewitt, Haley Joel Osment and Michael McKean voicing new characters. In 2002, the direct-to-video sequel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, was released on VHS and DVD. The plot focuses once again on Quasimodo as he continues to ring the bells now with the help of Zephyr, Esmeralda and Phoebus's son. He also meets and falls in love with a new girl named Madellaine who has come to Paris with her evil circus master, Sarousch. Disney thought that it was appropriate to make the sequel more fun and child-friendly due to the dark and grim themes of the original film.
Quasimodo, Esmeralda, Victor, Hugo, Laverne and Frollo all made guest appearances on the Disney Channel TV series House of Mouse. Frollo could also be seen amongst a crowd of Disney Villains in Mickey's House of Villains.
A live-action remake of The Hunchback of Notre Dame was announced in January 2019. The script will be penned by David Henry Hwang with Menken and Schwartz returning to write the music. Josh Gad, David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman are set to produce, with Gad being possibly considered to play Quasimodo. The film, titled simply Hunchback, will draw elements from both the animated film and Hugo's novel. In January 2021, Gad stated that the project is still in the works and that he and studio are "getting closer" to making it happen.
In 1996, to tie in with the original theatrical release, The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Topsy Turvy Games was released by Disney Interactive for the PC and the Nintendo Game Boy, which is a collection of mini games based around the Festival of Fools that includes a variation of Balloon Fight.
A world based on the movie, "La Cité des Cloches" (The City of Bells), made its debut appearance in the Kingdom Hearts series in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. It was the first new Disney world confirmed for the game. All of the main characters except Djali, Clopin and the Archdeacon (although Quasimodo mentions him in the English version) appear, and Jason Alexander and Charles Kimbrough were the only actors to reprise their roles from the movie.
Disney has converted its adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame into other media. For example, Disney Comic Hits #11, published by Marvel Comics, features two stories based upon the film. From 1997 to 2002 Disney-MGM Studios hosted a live-action stage show based on the film and Disneyland built a new theater-in-the-round and re-themed Big Thunder Ranch as Esmeralda's Cottage, Festival of Foods outdoor restaurant in Fantasyland and Festival of Fools extravaganza, which is now multipurpose space accommodating private events and corporate picnics. Disney closed the Festival in 2016 to make room for Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. Characters from The Hunchback of Notre Dame make very rare appearances at the Disney Parks and Resorts, but can be seen as figures inside Clopin's Music Box in Fantasyland.
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- Official website
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame at IMDb
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- The Hunchback of Notre Dame at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Comically Framing Virtue and Vice, chapter four in Mouse Morality: The Rhetoric of Disney Animated Film
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame at Box Office Mojo