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The Hunchback of Notre Dame(1996)
A deformed bellringer must assert his independence from a vicious government minister in order to help his friend, a gypsy dancing girl.
For more about The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the The Hunchback of Notre Dame Blu-ray release, see the The Hunchback of Notre Dame Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on March 6, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Tony Jay, Kevin Kline, Paul Kandel, Jason Alexander
Directors: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
» See full cast & crew
The Hunchback of Notre Dame Blu-ray Review
"I swear it must be Heaven's light!"
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, March 6, 2013
Disney is keenly aware of the appeal and reach of its catalog, down to the best and worst films under the Mouse House banner. Titles like Cinderella and Peter Pan arrive separately and to great fanfare, while other titles shuffle onto shelves en masse, sans the red-carpet treatment afforded their Platinum and Diamond Edition brethren. Last year, it was The Aristocats, The Rescuers, The Rescuers Down Under, Pocahontas, Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World, The Tigger Movie and Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure, all of which released in a single week in August. This year the mois du jour is March, and the releases include Robert Zemeckis's Who Framed Roger Rabbit (the fan-favorite odd man out in the March 12th lineup) and a trio of 2-Movie Collection Blu-rays: The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, Mulan and Mulan II, and Brother Bear and Brother Bear 2. (Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Atlantis: Milo's Return were originally set for March 12th as well but were unceremoniously and indefinitely delayed without explanation.) And, once again, the deluge is another hit or miss affair, with a classic live-action/animation hybrid, three solid (or at least decent) animated features and a near-unbearable batch of direct-to-video misfires.
Like Mulan, The Hunchback of Notre Dame isn't a true classic, or at least not an undisputed classic. For all its majesty and weight, Disney's 34th animated feature makes a few misguided steps that prevent it from reaching true greatness. Still, it remains one of Disney Animation's most beautiful traditionally animated films and something of a masterpiece in numerous circles.
Loosely based on the 1831 Victor Hugo novel of the same name, The Hunchback of Notre Dame tells the tale of Quasimodo (Tom Hulce), a deformed orphan in 15th century Paris raised by a cruel Minister of Justice named Frollo (Tony Jay) and confined to the bell tower of the Notre Dame Cathedral. Humble and unassuming, the kindly Quasimodo couldn't be more unlike the manipulative, self-righteous judge, and grows up believing he must keep himself hidden away lest the outside world condemn him as a monster. But when Quasimodo ventures outside the hallowed halls of Notre Dame and is befriended by a caring Gypsy named Esmeralda (Demi Moore), he slowly begins to realize Frollo isn't the saint he believed. Now, with Esmeralda in danger, Frollo's captain of the guard (Kevin Kline) defying the Minister's murderous orders, and rebellion brewing in the Parisian streets, Quasimodo must choose between love and loyalty and become the man his only friends -- stone gargoyles Hugo (Jason Alexander), Victor (Charles Kimbrough) and Laverne (Mary Wickes) -- know him to be.
Let's start with the aforementioned missteps, which really comes down to two things: the gargoyles and the climactic battle outside the walls of Notre Dame. First, Hugo and company. Remove the gargoyles, their forced comic relief and the tragically inserted pop culture references and The Hunchback of Notre Dame is suddenly more even and more satisfying. Taken as imaginary creatures created by Quasimodo during his lifelong isolation (think Tom Hanks and Wilson), the trio are easier to tolerate. Taken as they are, though, they're not shades of Quasimodo's mind, they're distractions. Irritations. They kill the established tone and, worse, lend levity where it isn't needed. Scenes like the climactic battle, which departs from the dark, serious drama of the first two acts with ungainly slapstick, cheap gags and even a wince-inducing Wizard of Oz nod. The influx of comedy -- poorly executed comedy at that -- is baffling.
Thankfully, the screentime granted to the gargoyles and everything that comes with them is relatively limited and, for the most part, fairly easy to overlook so long as you focus on everything directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale get right. Notre Dame is one of the rare films that examine the evils of self-serving religious men without once demonizing faith or religion itself. It's a surprisingly mature Disney animated feature; one that doesn't shy away from the darkness and desires burning within Frollo, Quasimodo's struggle to even entertain the idea of being a hero, and everything from bigotry to obsession to fear of those who are different. Children will gravitate to the film's themes of acceptance and friendship while adults will hone in on its far more subtle dissections of sin, hypocrisy and love. Layered on top of Hunchback's engrossing story and characters are Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz's sweeping songs and Disney's gorgeous animation; some of the best and most cohesive of the Disney Renaissance. The result? A largely invigorating animated musical that stands as one of the finest mid-to-late '90s Disney animated features (Pocahontas, Hercules, Mulan and Fantasia 2000), second only to Tarzan, and the best since Aladdin and The Lion King.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame Blu-ray, Video Quality
For all the beauty and stunning animation on display, The Hunchback of Notre Dame's 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer has a few issues worth noting. Banding and artifacting appear from time to time (although rarely to any debilitating degree, minus the skies behind Frollo during Phoebus' near-execution), aliasing graces a handful of shots and darker scenes are at odds with the presentation's contrast leveling. Still, the good far outweighs the bad, making any mishap in the image an easily overlooked deformity. Colors are warm and vibrant, with bold primaries, rich purples and golds, and deep blacks. Detail is excellent too. The animators' line art is crisp and clean on the whole, the brushstrokes and textures of the hand-painted backgrounds are wonderfully resolved, and the CG elements fare well, even under high definition scrutiny. Moreover, significant macroblocking, crush, noise and other anomalies are either kept to a bare minimum or nowhere to be found, and most scenes come within a hair's breadth of perfection. The studio's technical encode isn't as proficient as other Disney Animation Blu-ray presentations, but it's close enough to earn respectable marks.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Hunchback of Notre Dame bellows from its bell tower with a strong, stalwart DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. LFE output resonates with power and presence, infusing weight and gravitas into both the dramatic and musical narrative that develop. The rear speakers, meanwhile, help bring the Parisian streets, Gypsy hideaways and vast Notre Dame Cathedral sound as busy, bustling or as sacred as each locale should. Directional effects are free to roam and pans are disarmingly smooth, while dynamics bring nuance to the film's already intricate sound design. And dialogue is crystal clear, perfectly grounded and carefully prioritized within the mix... which is unfortunately something I can't quite say about the song lyrics. Though always intelligible and typically balanced within each song, there are occasions where lyrics are overwhelmed by soaring orchestration. It doesn't ever emerge as a worrisome issue, but audiophiles will notice it all the same. That said, The Hunchback of Notre Dame's lossless audio pairs neatly with its video presentation to produce a stirring spectacle. It isn't ideal, but it isn't without grand merit either.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Hunchback of Notre Dame Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a worthy addition to any Disney Animation collection. It's flawed, yes. But it has too much to offer to allow a few chatty gargoyles and cringe-inducing gags to spoil one of the later Disney Renaissance's best films. The Hunchback of Notre Dame II is not a worthy sequel, though, so consider yourself warned. Fortunately, both trips to Notre Dame are blessed with strong AV presentations, even if special features are few and far between. So add this one to your cart for The Hunchback of Notre Dame alone, treat the sequel as an extra and reap the singular reward.
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The Hunchback of Notre Dame Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Hunchback of Notre Dame Blu-ray - December 19, 2012
Meet France's most unlikely hero as Walt Disney Home Entertainment inducts The Hunchback of Notre Dame and its direct-to-video sequel The Hunchback of Notre Dame II into its Blu-ray canon via a 2-Movie Collection BD/DVD Combo Pack. Quasimodo and Esmeralda make ...
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