The Hunchback of Notre Dame

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Okay, I have seriously mixed feelings about this movie. On the one hand, it mystifies me how Disney thought it would be a good idea to make a children’s animated musical out of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Hugo’s novel had to be butchered and bowdlerized almost beyond recognition to make it even semi-appropriate for children, and despite the butchering and bowdlerizing, it’s still full of dark themes that are, imo, inappropriate and confusing for young children. This essential darkness melds very poorly with the elements intended to make it more appealing to younger audiences, resulting in a sort of thematic whiplash. Goofy gargoyles do a big song and dance number one minute, Frollo sings about burning Esmeralda at the stake if she won’t agree to become his lover the next. It doesn’t work.

On the other hand, the animation is absolutely gorgeous, most of the songs are excellent, and Frollo is one of Disney’s best and most terrifying villains.

It’s worth watching for the incredible Heaven’s Light/Hellfire sequence alone.

Malificent is, and probably always will be, my favorite Disney villain, but she’s fundamentally a creature of fantasy and therefore truly frightening only to Disney’s youngest audience members. Evil fairies don’t exist in the real world. Frollo, on the other hand, is a distinctly human brand of evil. His hypocrisy and cruelty are terrifying in their very mundaneness – most adults have known a Frollo or two, or at least known somebody who has, and few will remember the encounter happily. For that reason, he is one of the few Disney villains that is probably scarier for the adults than the children in the audience.

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My rating: (2.5 / 5)