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25 Years Later: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

18 July 21 words: Katie Green

Disney’s adaptation of the French literature classic celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, telling the story of the disfigured bell ringer Quasimodo who longs for a life on the outside...

Director: Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise
Starring: Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Tony Jay
Running time: 91 minutes

Considered one of Disney’s darkest animated movies, The Hunchback of Notre Dame shows audiences the life of bell ringer Quasimodo (Jason Alexander) whose only friends are talking gargoyles that form a part of the famous Parisian architecture. Quasi is under the ‘care’ of Calude Frollo (Tony Jay), who he sees as his master. One day, Quasimodo breaks free and lays his eyes upon local Gypsy girl Esmeralda (Demi Moore), and stands up to his tyrant master to help and save Esmeralda. 

This animated classic is still a thrilling film decades later – and, like any successful Disney film, there is of course the catchy soundtrack that will be stuck in your head for hours afterwards. The Hunchback of Notre Dame soundtrack includes some memorable tracks including the opening song The Bells of Notre Dame that builds up the excitement for the film. Then there are the more sorrowful ballads on the soundtrack including God Help the Outcasts. What I love about Disney films, especially with this classic, is the songs that tell the story and add another layer of emotional depth.

Although we cannot physically see the actors interacting, the chemistry between Esmeralda and Quasi is a favourite pairing that stands out in the story. Even though Quasi's romantic feelings for Esmeralda are unrequited, they form an unlikely friendship and deeply care for each other. Their friendship clearly works because they are both outcasts in this Parisian world and era they live in, and it is this familiarity that brings them together and adds another depth to their friendship only either of them can understand.

Revisiting it at an older age, I can appreciate the film’s darker themes much more

To cast Demi Moore as the voice of Esmeralda at the time makes sense as the actress was in her prime, having recently starred in classics such as Ghost and St Elmo’s Fire in the late Eighties. However, the choice to cast her in an animated musical is perhaps one that surprised audiences at the time. Nevertheless, it proved to be a success as her role as Esmeralda stands out even 25 years later as an unlikely favourable character from a Disney film.

Although Disney movies tend to be for all ages, the film touches upon darker themes including infanticide, damnation and antiziganism. Watching this for the first time as a six-year-old, I did not understand what these themes were, but the film was still of educational value to me. It helped me to understand the prejudice that was set against Gypsies, or anyone that was considered ‘different’ from the ‘norm’. Revisiting it at an older age, I can appreciate these themes much more.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is an oft-overlooked Disney classic, perhaps due to its darker subject matter. Overall, its plot, the friendship between the two leads and also the catchy yet meaningful soundtrack make for a great watch.

Did you know? The Southern Baptist Convention voted overwhelmingly to urge its sixteen million members to boycott the film for ‘disparaging Christian values’. One US pastor, however, praised the film and said it had the potential to ‘accomplish much good in the minds and hearts of its viewers’.

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