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Movie Review

Hunchback of Notre Dame

Reviewed by: Marcus Mann

Better than Average
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Older Children and Adults
Year of Release:

Featuring the voices of Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Kevin Kline, Paul Kandel, Tony Jay, Charles Kimbrough, Jason Alexander, Mary Wickes, David Ogden Stiers / Director: Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale

Disney’s animators have done it again. A genuine blockbuster! Spectacular animation, great music and charming characters highlight this adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic tale.

Quasimodo (the “hunchback”) is a lonely outsider who dreams of leaving the protection of Notre Dame for just one day. He ventures into the city (Paris) during the annual Festival of Fools against the wishes of his master, the self-righteous, evil Judge Frollo. “Topsy-turvy”, the song for the celebration, describes very well the rest of the story as Quasimodo’s world turns upside down. During the celebration, he is crowned “King of the Fools” and finds himself falling instantly in love with the Gypsy dancer Esmeralda. Joy turns quickly to sorrow as the crowd cruelly mocks and rejects him for his misshapen appearance, failing to see the charm which lies below his odd looks.

Back in the safety of the Cathedral, Quasimodo is at first heartbroken to find that Esmeralda is in love with another, yet he ultimately risks everything to bring the two lovers together. In the end, the entire city of Paris owes Quasimodo a great debt as he teaches the people the important lesson of acceptance and love. Paris learns to appreciate the unique values of the outcast Gypsies and the disfigured hunchback.

As Christians, we find this to be an admirable lesson. The Bible teaches that all the people in the world are the miraculous creation of God (in God’s own image) no matter the color of skin or the standard of beauty. Gratefully, Disney’s adaptation of the novel makes the great Cathedral, and it’s priest, the protector and sanctuary of the mistreated; rather than an evil oppressor. Disney erects a clearly evil judge as the villain, making it easy for the entire audience to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys.

The major weakness of this film lies in it’s portrayal of evil judge Follo’s lust for Esmeralda. The scenes which deal with this topic are intense, dark and definitely adult in nature. If indeed this film were intended for younger children (as the toy marketing would indicate) then Disney has sadly missed the mark. This aspect of the movie is the only shadow for an otherwise bright film experience.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is easily the best Disney animation since Beauty and Beast. Older children, teenagers and adults will thrill to the adventures of this likable bell-ringer, but parents may want to preview it before taking their younger kids.

Viewer Comments
This is the movie that convinced me to join the Disney boycott. Laced with sexual innuendo, the movie paints the picture of an evil but devoutly religious character who wishes to rid the city of gypsies but finds himself overcome with passion for a gypsy woman. This same evil man is the adoptive, manipulative caretaker of the hunchback.

Twice in the movie, the dialogue makes an oblique reference to the all-knowing eyes who will bring judgment on evil-doers. A glance toward heaven lets us think for a moment that the reference is toward God. However, both times, the view immediately pans to the gargoyles. Indeed, at the end of the movie, judgment comes not from God but the stone characters come to life.

Though the portrayal of a priest is warm, in this movie with many religious themes, the message is quite blatant that God is irrelevant to the discussion. The animation is excellent, but Disney does a disservice by marketing the movie to children. This movie has a dark, haunting atmosphere, certainly unsuitable for children due to the sexual content and misguided religious references.
—Jeff Stucker, age 30
I am terribly disappointed… How can Disney in good conscience market this movie to children? It is obviously an adult film with adult themes. (Adding a few talking gargoyles and a cute goat does NOT, in any way, make this movie suitable for children.)

It is filled with violence. The opening scene depicts a mother being killed as her child is ripped from her arms …then the child almost being murdered because of his deformities. …My twins, who are 8, were terrified and had nightmares following this movie.

I am no prude and have no problem with the content (for adults)… I have a problem that they (have targeted) this movie to youngsters. Had I previewed it, I wouldn’t have taken my children. As an adult, I can appreciate the lush animation, but as a parent I was embarrassed and distressed at the dark and lustful undertones. …Has Disney forgotten “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast”?

I believe they need to take a serious look at their filmaking and marketing policies and remember who their audience is… CHILDREN.
—Bonny Kuykendall
Overall, great movie. Best animation I’ve EVER seen! Breathtaking! The song that Esmeralda sings (something about “Children of God” is surprisingly a great one! You could sing it at church, and unless they’ve seen the movie, they won’t know it’s not a Christian song.

My complaint, however, is that Esmeralda, like Barbie dolls, puts an unrealistic pressure on girls to look like her. Her measurements are way out of proportion, and it puts up a standard of thin, voluptuous bodies, screaming “sex”, that most of us never achieve. The low cut dress is very inappropriate! The scene about the King’s burning desire for her, and how she will burn in hell if she doesn’t give in it his lusts is extremely inappropriate for children.
—Becky, age 21
Our kids are pretty sensitive to scary scenes, so here are my comments about when to cover their eyes! When the bad guy is in front of his fireplace, it’s mildly scary and unedifying. When the hunchback and the captain go down into the gypsy hideout, beware—they go through a sewer area lined with skeletons (this was the worst of the scenes).

Lastly, the ending part was a bit intense with the bad guy trying to kill the good ones. This film sends confused religious messages: the priest is a great guy, but the gypsy sings about hypocrisy, and the people are praying selfish prayers. This seemed to go right over our 7 and 4-year olds' heads though. Great theme: a monster is what you are inside, not out.
—Geoffrey Bard, age 34
I took my 8 and 12 year olds to this movie and they both did not think it was as good as The Lion King. I did not like the dark, evil lustfulness of the judge. I also found the anti-religious undertones not appealing. I am tired of Disney’s portrayal of women as sexy objects and always falling under the spell of men repulsive. I don’t want my daughters to believe this Hollywood image of relationships. What happened to the Disney movies of my childhood? Luv Bug anyone?
—Cindi, age 40
I must say I agree about that, while I greatly enjoyed the movie I would not take a young child to it. Not only the kicking in the head, but when they were going to torch the families house with the family in it—as well as a few other scenes. There were 4 kids in front of us at the theater (maybe between 4 and 6) and they were not paying much attention to the movie—they were very antsy, as were some other kids. I definitely think a movie like Toy Story is more directed towards kids and also more captivating for them (and adults too).
I think all the carping about the film’s suitability for tykes should be levelled—not at Disney Feature Animation—but at the MPAA for rating it “G”. I even have some confusion about how a movie that begins with a guy killing a woman by kicking her in the head—how that movie gets a G rating.
—James Anthony Travis
I hate to be a spoilsport but I thought the movie was dreadful… it misses its audience by a mile. This is not a “family” movie, but a “Les Mis”-type story in animation form… way too dark and evil for kids. My 8 year old had so many questions coming out of it, I’m almost sorry I took him. The beauty of Disney’s animation is that they can create characters that kids (and adults) connect with. Sorry, but I found very little in Hunchback with which I want to connect. Disney should go back to what it does best and deal with magical “make-believe” stories. My bet is that this may fare more poorly than Pocohantas (which was guilty of the same thing) and that the merchandising efforts will be a bust!
—Amy Ginsburg
…As a Christian, I think the subject matter was treated well, but, I think the Disney violence is getting a little meaner every movie. This bad guy in this movie was especially cruel. I don’t think I would recommend this for any kids under age 10…
—Michael R Judy
This film is a composite of all recent Disney films since MERMAID, with the usual perky, independent, Belle/Jasmine/Pocahontas-type of heroine. It has all the routine elements of HOME ALONE, including violence and silly slapstick wise cracking sidekicks. It is not for kids (I’d like to hear parents explain the song HELLFIRE to their children).
—Joseph Din
Despite the fact that the MPAA should have given this film a “PG” rating—Disney has totally outdone themselves. I said in 1991 they’d never top Beauty and the Beast—I was wrong. This film is top notch—and as for the comments on seances and alternative lifestyles… what movie were you watching? It wasn’t the same one I was watching, that is for sure. On a scale of 1-100 it gets a 98
—Daniel Gray, age 23
My wife took my two sons (13 and 9) to see it. She said it was much too Hollywood in spiritual terms. Seances and alternative lifestyle compassion were prevalent. Would not recommend for children.
—Joey, age 37
I thought it was a great Disney adaptation of Hugo’s classic. My 10 year old really loved it and my 14 year old thought it was a great love story.
—Tony, age 47
Good movie, but it seems to be geared toward an adult audience. I wouldn’t recommend it for children. I really enjoyed the music.
—Beth, age 33
Positive—Disney’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” was a beautiful movie. A lot of the atrocities of the movie are committed by the evil Judge Claude Frollo, therefore evil is portrayed as unattractive. Even before I knew Christ, I knew that real Christians do not act the way he does. The archdeacon stands up against Frollo’s evil very nicely. Phoebus does serve Frollo at first, but he soon learns that the latter is not a godly man and rejects him BEAUTIFULLY by saving an innocent miller’s family from Frollo. Quasimodo learns to not be prejudiced against Gypsies and risks his life so many times to protect Esmeralda. I loved the song “God help the outcasts,” glorifies true prayer. The rest of the soundtrack is also good.

A few small concerns though: Esmeralda does a palm reading and Frollo prays to Mary during the “Hellfire” song. Anyone with common sense, saved or unsaved, should know that palm reading is dumb and meaningless and does not determine anything about anyone. Esmeralda is said to practice witchcraft, at one point, but it did not look like witchcraft or occult at all; she simply used escape smoke to run from Frollo’s soldiers. Only thing that looked like witchcraft, at all, was the palm reading she did to Quasimodo, but like I said, common sense people.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Peter, age 22 (USA)
Comments from young people
I think the movie was really good. There was some bad things in there that I didn’t like, like the time that the bad guy killed the hunchbacks mom.
—Jana, age 7
I thought it was a good movie, but sad in places. The music was pretty good. I did not find it scary, and I would recommend it to kids to see with their parents.
—Joshua Rector, age 10