The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
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This is probably one of the Disney movies that I'd recommend a second viewing as an adult. There's a lot of subtext and mature themes that I didn't pick up on my first time watching and instead did the second time around. The ideas of acceptance, evil, racial prejudice and even undertones of religious salvation are packed succinctly into this movie. The music is atmospheric and well adapted to each changing scene. And plus, Esmeralda is such a bewitching heroine.
Although it has numerous flaws, it's among my favorite Disney movies. As a fan of the book as well, it barely even follows the plot; but then again, it would be rather challenging to make such a story into a kid's movie.
I first saw this when I was very young, and watched it again after five years or so. I didn't like it either time. I watched it again just recently, and I must say I appreciate so much more than I would have ever expected. Disney has made dozens of better movies, but this one is notable merely for its maturity. The book's plot is one about lust and appearances vs personality, so while Disney tried to maintain it's kid-friendly image the movie has definitely an adult element added to it.
One such example where this adult element is shown is anytime Frollo on screen. Mesmerized and taunted by the beauty of the gypsy Esmeralda, he is torn between the sin of lust and remaining pure to God. This boils down to a serious decision for him: to have Esmeralda or to kill her. The song "Hellfire" (my favorite Disney song of all time) is really the mature theme of this movie at its peak. I highly recommend even just watching this song if you don't want to take the time to watch the movie.
As for characters, even though they as well follow the book only a little, I still managed to like them. Frollo, although missing the tragic back story as he had in the novel, still has that inner conflict that causes the viewer to feel slightly bad for him. But then again, perhaps it's because I knew his story in the first place.
Although Esmeralda is missing a lot of her elements too, she is still one of the best Disney heroines to date. Accepting and independent, I thoroughly enjoyed her if not the other characters (read: the gargoyles).
One thing I do regret about this movie is the fact Disney tried to make this a family movie. If they would have targeted towards older audiences and really emphasized Frollo's inner conflict of love and lust and the whole flaws of the Christian church dilemma, I think it would have been the pinnacle of Disney movies.
And if you still don't want to watch the movie, at least take time to listen to the soundtrack. It surpasses any other Disney soundtrack to this date.
I loved it. An underrated gem in the Disney canon. It's a very different effort than most Disney movies. Dark and with a truly terrifying villain. The comedy also works very well, most of it aimed at a more adult audience than normal. Warmly recommended.
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In 3 official lists
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This movie ranks #35 in 100 Animated Feature Films (BFI Screen Guides)
This movie ranks #45 in Top 100 Animated Features of All Time
This movie ranks #396 in All-Time Worldwide Box office