My opinion right after watching film
My opinion right after watching the film is that it is a lot better than Pocahontas is. I do think that it has a lot going for it, and there is a lot of good stuff in it. The animation is good to look at, the music is phenomenal, the characters are likable, and there is a lot of story, but the tone of the movie is an issue, and I do feel like they made a mistake with the protagonist. This movie is definitely at a crossroads.
I think this film started development in around 1993. Executive David Stain was reading the comic book version, and was inspired to make an animated film off of it. Beauty and the Beast directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise were working on minor projects (finished off BatB as while ago), so they easily took up this project.
There were many issues that took place adapting this film. Frollo was hard to get done, and they had to change his role a lot, as he was changed from the Archdeacon to the Judge, and his song Hellfire was almost cut from the film. I know that God Help the Oucasts had some issues as well. They made the song Someday to replace it, only to stick with God Help the Outcasts.
I could not find anything else on the production of this film.
The film starts in 1482 Paris with The Bells of Notre Dame, which is narrated by Clopin (Paul Kandel), who sings about how Quasimodo (Tom Hulce)’s parents snuck into Paris, but was caught by Judge Claude Frollo (Tony Jay), and she was chased all across town, to only be kicked and cracked her head on Notre Dame, dying in front of Archedean (David Ogden Stiers) ‘s eyes, who also stops Frollo from throwing baby Quasi in the well. Frollo has to raise him as debt for killing on Notre Dame, and the old man decides to raise and leave Quasi at the attic to raise, so he can visit him whenever, and to hide him so no one will see him.
20 years later, Quasimodo is a grown, deformed redhead, who is encouraging a bird to fly, to which it eventually does. The gargoyles eventually wake up and immediately ramble obnoxiously and Hugo (Jason Alexander) farts with his armpit. I will just get this out of the way. I hate the gargoyles. I get it that they need comic relief, but they did not need to make them so damn obnoxious and over the top. They completely ruin the dark tone of the film, and distract the main plot. They mean well, but they are really grating. Them interrupting the plot is a HUGE issue in the movie. Let’s move on. Quasimodo does not feel like watching the Festivals this year because he is never allowed to go, and knows that Frollo will HATE that he wants to go to the festival, so he does not bother asked.
The gargoyles convince him to go to the festival, but as he leaves, Frollo arrives, and works with his manipulation. He almost always make Quasimodo feel like shit without really saying so. He has Quasi remembering the alphabet by making him say insults and negative words. He accidentally says Festival for F, which makes Frollo lose it.
So we go in the town to see war hero Phoebus (Kevin Kline) making his way back into town for being gone for “a couple of decades”. A few gypsys dancing catches his eye, and is stunned when he lays eyes on Esmeralda (Demi Moore). They share a glance, but some of her gypsy crew give the signal whistle, meaning the guards are coming. They grab her and accuse her of stealing money (that she earned from dancing), and she manages to escape. Phoebus moves his horse so the guards will fall and not get to her. She sees this and blushes. He apologizes, and they are about to curse him off, until they realize he is the Captain Phoebus. They take him to the Palace of Justice, and he passes by a disguised Esmeralda to pick up her coins and give it back to her, leaving her shocked.
So he goes to the Palace of Justice, and Frollo is enjoying watching someone get whipped. Phoebus is not pleased that he is called to Paris to take care of “palm readers and fortune tellers”. Frollo is hoping he will be a good captain and not disappoint his last one (who I think is getting whipped for the villain’s enjoyment). They go to the festival (because it is his job as a council member) as Quasimodo sneaks out, which leads us to or third song Topsy Turvy.
Quasi ends up being covered in food, humiliated as he was tied up. Esmeralda comes out from changing, and stops the madness. Frollo tells her to stop, but she refuses and yells “JUSTICE”. This gets her into shit with Frollo, and orders Phoebus to get the guards to capture her, but she escapes with her kick ass moves and her parlor tricks, putting them to shame, and everyone cheering weirdly for her. I think they did this because everyone hates the guards so much. Quasimodo rushes inside, regretting ever leaving the attic, and realizing that Frollo is right.
Phoebus sees Esmeralda’s old person disguise enter Notre Dame, so he curiously follows her in. She senses that someone is following her, and without instinct, she grabs his sword and throws him down to the floor with no ease. He tries to calm the situation, but she is more than angry. He trips her to the floor, and they end up exchanging witty commentary as they….swordfight….with her using a candle stick. What I will say about their relationship is that Phoebus treats her like a human being. He does not praise her (Quasimodo) or treat her like a bad toy (Frollo). He says that he does not want that to happen and wants them to properly introduce themselves. She gives him an extreme side eye when he tells her his name means sun god, and when she tells him her name, they go closer to one another, before Frollo shows up.
Captain tells her to claim sanctuary, but she thinks he set her up. He tells Frollo that she claimed sanctuary, and Archdeacon tells all of them to leave. Frollo hides as everyone leaves before grabbing her by pulling her arm behind her back, and sniff her hair. He threatens her that gypsies do not do well in stone walls, and he will be waiting for her as soon as she leaves. She has a little chat with the Archedeacon, disgusted by Frollo’s actions and no one stopping to help Quasi. This leads too…
Quasi comes down to listen to her angelic voice, but a villager yells at him for being down there after causing enough trouble, causing him to run off and for her to follow him. She arrives at his attic, and is stunned by his sculpture of the town. They bond over not being outcasts, and they tell one another that they are good people (as he thinks every gypsy but her is ad, and he is an abomination. She realizes that Frollo is his master, and she asks him to escape with her, which he refuses. He instead offers to help her escape (as she helped him), and they do this by climbing down the outside of the church, and are almost caught by guards She gives him an artifact that holds the map of Paris in his hands, and she walks off. As soon as he manages to get back inside, he is approached by Phoebus, and the hunchback is ready to drag his ass like a gangsta so they could fight in the stairwell.
The Gargoyles make things worse as they put in a bunch of crap in his ear, like how Phoebus was stealing his girl
pretty much already happened before Quasi and Esmeralda ever met and how she likes him, which leads to the smallest and probably the weakest song Heaven’s Light, which is really only there to contrast Frollo’s burning lust and hatred for the gypsy girl, which he sings about in Hellfire. He really believes he is doing something right, and that he is being tempted by the devil. He is begging Mary and the lord to have mercy on him. It gives him a lot more depth than most other villains do not manage to get. He and Gaston are why I like the more realistic, magic-less villains. The guards tell Frollo that Esmeralda has escaped.
The next morning, Frollo goes on a bloddy rampage to look for Esmeralda, and burns houses, drowns carriages, and arrests/or kill gypsies and anyone who he thinks would help gypsies, which Phoebus slowly starts to dislike and wants no part of. This comes to a climax when he refuses to burn an innocent miller family’s house, which causes Frollo to do it himself, and the military hero to save the family. This causes him to be ordered to be beheaded by Frollo, but is saved by a disguised Esmeralda, who throws a rock at Frollo’s horse, which distracted everyone, and Phoebus managed to escape and steal Frollo’s horse. The guards shoot him down, causing him to fall over a bridge into the river. Esmeralda goes down to save her budding crush (it is amazing as to how proactive she is in this movie and how many people she saves).
So Quasimodo is in a sad mood, and the Gargoyles do not want him to worry anymore. He approaches to look at the city gone wild, and wonders if she will be okay. Hugo says that she will be fine, with Laverne (Mary Wickens in her final role, to be replaced during the song by Jane Withers) and Victor (Charles Kimbrough) singing A Guy Like You, which is about how he will be a good boyfriend, and how Esmeralda cannot resist him, which is building him up to only get crushed, when she and her gypsy friend bring a barely conscious and injured Phoebus to the room. She asks to look out for him, and as she sets him down (and they are alone) she and Phoebus end up kissing, as he says he is not sure if his heart is pierced (and if anyone did, it is by her).
Esmeralda and her friend have to leave, and Frollo (who realized Quasimodo is how she escaped) arrives to pay his adopted son a visit right after his lust target has left. He loses it on Quasimodo, throws the food off the table, and burns the mini statue he made about Esmeralda, telling Quasi that she is manipulating him with her dirty, gypsy spell. He reveals that he and his men found the Court of Miracles, and is planning to attack at dawn, and leaves. Phoebus (who was barely conscious) got out of the table and asks if he is going to go to the Court of Miracles with him. Still bitter, Quasimodo refuses to help Phoebus, as she has her knight in shining armor.
The two struggle to work together as he shows the captain the map, but there is smooth sailing after that. Phoebus realizes that they made it too far without a trap, which leads to the Court of Miracles song, where Clopin and the gypsies are so willing to kill them, knowing they are innocent. I am glad they are not portrayed as angels, and do get dirty. Esmeralda stops this, and tells them that her man and friend are their allies, with Phoebus warning them about Frollo coming. She runs and hugs him, and Phoebus looks at Quasimodo and pushes her off to not make the deformed man feel awkward.
Frollo and his men show up to arrest all the gypsies + Phoebus, and to tie Quasi to his room with a bunch of chains. He cuts the gargoyles off (who was trying to encourage him to save the day), as he felt like he caused all of this. Esmeralda refuses an offer to be with Frollo (and spits in his face), so she is about to get burned, but Quasi breaks through the chains and jumps from the sky, swinging on the chain to grab her and to bring her back to his room. Phoebus and the other gypsies are released and the fight off the guards, with the Gargoyles throwing lava through the church (which proves these pests are real and not in Quasi’s imagination).
So Frollo is willing to stab Quasi as he realizes that Esmeralda “died”, but when he sees that his father is ready to stab him, he realizes everything the old man told him was a lie, and he is the bad one. Esmeralda wakes up, causing the deformed man to rush to her, and for Frollo to pick back up his sword. They end up in this long chase, with Frollo swinging the sword like a mad man. Quasi and Esme end up at the edge, and she is holding him up, with Frollo ready to kill them both, but he loses his balance and grabs onto a piece of the architecture, which breaks and smiles devilishly.
Esmeralda loses grip of Quasi, causing him to fall, but to only be caught by Phoebus , who is a few levels down. She rushes down the floors to see her two men hug one another, which makes her feel warm inside and give off a genuine smile. She runs straight to Quasi and hugs him, right before he grabs their (her and Phoebus) hands and merges them, with them eventually kissing. I have heard many complain about this ending, but I do not see the big deal about it (though it would have paid off better if Esme was the protagonist). The couple runs outside to be cheered, but she runs back to grab a nervous Quasimodo, and brings him with everyone, to only be embraced by a little girl lifted up into everyone’s arm and cheered. The film ends with Esme, her goat and Phoebus cuddle together, and Quasi being carried through the town…by the entire town as Clopin sings a small reprise of Bells of Notre Dame.
The characters are for the most part likable. While some of the characters are not the deepest and could have been better, some of the characters are standouts, while others (you ALL know who) are grating, which is the nicest thing to say about them.
The animation is pretty good. The details in the town and the church is very 16th or 15th century, and the character designs are less cartoony, but not Pocahontas-level realistic, as they can give wide expressions. I do not like the CGI though, and I do think it makes the film look a lot weirder.
The music is very good. It has a french, catholic theme to it, which is PERFECT, and all of the song (except Court of Miracles) have use and expand on the story and characters. They are not songs that are going to make you dance like the Aladdin soundtrack, but it is more sophisticated, and really works on the musical formula. This film should have been the last of the musical format, as the others after this did not use it well, and you could do without it.
Reception at Release
When the film came out on June 21, 1996, it was clear that the Renaissance was past its peak, and things were beginning to simmer. A part of this had to do with it being released right after the disappointing Pocahontas, and this was no less controversial than that film. it opened to the #2 spot, but saw a decline as the weeks came on, making a disappointing, but bearable $100 million in the domestic box office. It made $225 million overseas, with a total of $325,338,851. It is still the 5th highest grossing film of the year, so there is still success.
Critically……I do not know if I would call it mixed to positive reviews…yeah, I will call it that. Most liked it more than Pocahontas, and there were not too many complaints. People liked it for its deep story, great music, and more adult themes, while others hated it for ruining the book, and confused as to why this is a children’s film.
When it comes to the accolades, it went on a HUGE downhill spiral since Pocahontas. It was still nominated for many awards, like Best Music (Academy Awards), An annie for Best Animated Film (Toy Story was its only competition, and this film suffered from being released a few months after this film), many other Annies for the individual achievement, voice acting, and won 7 awards from minor award ceremonies.
The soundtrack did do well; it reached 11 on the Billboard charts.
It is growing a bigger reception today, but it is still not seen as a classic. There is a musical that Disney is adapting off of this film, so it is a bigger improvement. It is known as being one of the darkest films in the canon, but many do not like this film for ruining the book. It is managing to age better since 1996.
= 31/40 = 78%