The Hunchback of Notre Dame - * * * *

Highly entertaining and inventive animated adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel. Tom Hulce provides the voice for Quasimodo, the title character. As a babe, his gypsy mother is slain by the evil Judge Frollo (Tony Jay), but the archdeacon (David Ogden Stiers) saves Quasimodo’s life and demands Frollo raise the child. Frollo does so, but keeps the deformed hunchback a virtual prisoner in the bell towers of Notre Dame. Twenty years later, Quasi’s only friends are three gargoyles, Victor (Charles Kimbrough), Hugo (Jason Alexander) and Laverne (Mary Wickes), who come to life when no one else is around. He yearns to venture among the other people of the city…and seizes his chance during the Festival of Fools. Among the people he does meet are Esmerelda (Demi Moore), an exotic Gypsy woman, and Phoebus (Kevin Kline) the heroic captain of the guard who chafes under Frollo’s cruel orders. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a darker, and far more richer film than the traditional Disney cartoon. That’s not to say that it isn’t a film for children…far to the contrary. Despite all the controversy over the subject matter, this film rests solidly on the G side of the G/PG line. There are a few scary scenes, as there are in most Disney cartoons…but any child who is old enough to go to a movie theater should be able to survive, and will be thoroughly entertained, as will adults. Children will be able to understand the story on its simple levels, while adults can revel in the fascinating depth of the plot and characters. The animation is top-notch, as we have come to expect from Disney, with some marvelously integrated computer animation and tremendously detailed cel work. Alan Menkin’s songs are enjoyable and serve as more than just filler. This is Disney’s best cartoon in years, and one of the best films of the year.

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