24. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Disney was at the peak of their Renaissance in the 1990’s by revitalizing their animation department and getting out of the Dark Ages that was the 1980’s. However, after the dismal response to the previous year’s Pocahontas, Disney took a risk with The Hunchback of Notre Dame by trying to condense a legendary book about religion, persecution and sexual desires into a family friendly production. It mostly paid off for Disney in the form of a spectacular work of art. The animation is on par with that of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King before it by creating a wondrous version of Paris. Paris is practically a character of its own in the story a la the Victor Hugo’s novel. The songs of the film are some of the best written for a Disney film with Stephen Schwartz of Wicked fame and Alan Menken, who worked on the aforementioned Pocahontas, making them superb. The “Heaven’s Light/Hellfire” sequence alone proves their worth with a stark contrast of longing for love and wanting of lust. The story is well told with playing up the “ugly duckling” aspects while leaving the subtext of prejudice and lust firmly intact through the gypsy Clopin, voiced by Paul Kandel, guiding the audience.
The characters, outside of Judge Frollo, voiced by Tony Jay, and Quasimodo, voiced by Tom Hulce, are a bit lackluster. Pheobus, voiced by Kevin Kline, is a sarcastic soldier, Esmeralda, voiced by Demi Moore, is a tough gypsy that becomes a damsel in distress, but feel more as one dimensional than anything. The most glaring examples are the gargoyles. Unlike the badass characters on the Gargoyles show, these gargoyles take away so much from the nice darkness of the tale to entertain the kids, but can be rather invasive to the overall story. The Hunchback of Notre Dame may not be seen as one of the black sheep of the Disney lineup, it delivers on the fronts it needs to to cement its spot on this list.
Critic’s Quote: “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is the best Disney animated feature since “Beauty and the Beast”–a whirling, uplifting, thrilling story with a heart-touching message that emerges from the comedy and song.”- Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, June 21, 1996
Signature Moment: The “Hellfire” portion of the “Heaven’s Light/Hellfire” sequence. With marvelous animation and booming vocals by Tony Jay, it is the best Disney villain song in any feature.