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Friday, September 27, 2013

The Hunchback of Notre Dame I & II 2-Movie Collection Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Rediscover Disney's musical adventures of The Hunchback Of Notre Dame and The Hunchback Of Notre Dame II - together for the first time in stunning Blu-ray High Definition. Bring your family together for the extraordinary tale of Quasimodo in a soaring celebration of the beauty inside all of us!  Join the world’s most unlikely hero as he meets his first real friend, Esmeralda, while fighting to save the people and city he loves. The legendary story continues as Quasi reunites with his gargoyle friends to protect the cathedral’s most famous bell and find true love. The Hunchback of Notre Dame soars with a magnificent score by renowned composer Alan Menken (Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin). Enjoy both magical films, bursting with brilliant animation and unforgettable characters, together on Disney Blu-ray.

Film (2 1/2 out of 5 stars) 


The Hunchback of Notre Dame (3 out of 5 stars)    
The Hunchback of Notre Dame II (2 out of 5 stars) 
Lately, I’ve been reviewing a lot of Disney’s movies from the 90s and a lot of them share similar traits that really stand out when compared to their other films.  Films like Pocahontas, Mulan, and this film are all visually gorgeous to look at and each of them seem to formulated to win awards. This batch of films are so polished that they seem to have lost the heart that the earlier films had in spades.  Disney seemed to be so enamored of the success from Beauty and the Beast, that they tried to replicate it again and again with Broadway-esque songs and operatic set-pieces that could have easily been in contention to win a Tony award as well as an Oscar.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame follows in that tradition and even exemplifies it more-so than the other films in Disney’s canon.  Watching it, it seems like you are watching a stage play if you discount the sweeping camera movements that open up the city of Paris.  Set in 1482, the opening of the film shows us the backstory and characters that sets up the rest of the movie when a group of gypsies sneak into Paris.  They are caught by Judge Claude Frollo, a religious zealot who believe his campaign against the gypsies is divinely ordained which makes him even more determined and implacable.   When one of the gypsies tries to run away with her deformed son but Rollo catches her and kills her outside of the Notre Dame cathedral.  Rollo is even more happy to kill the baby which he views as an “unholy demon” but he’s stopped by the cathedral’s archdeacon who warns Frollo that what he’s doing goes against the church’s teachings.  Suddenly afraid that he’s crossed the line, Frollo is convinced to atone for his sins by adopting the child he wanted to murder.  He names the child Quasimodo and and the child is left to grow up locked in the cathedral.
Twenty years go by and Quasimodo has grown up isolated by both his appearance and by his captivity in the cathedral.  His only companions have been the stone gargoyles who only come to life for him.  In between his bell ringing duties, he gazes longingly at the city below, wishing that he could be a part of it.  The gargoyles encourage him to take part in the Festival of Fools event where everyone wears a costume during the celebration and despite Frollo’s warning not to participate, Quasimodo dresses up and joins the festival.  Initially, his appearance is celebrated by the crows who believe that his appearance is part of a costume for the festival but that doesn’t last once they learn it’s his true face.  Facing the disdain from the crowd who have been whipped up into a frenzy by Frollo and his men, Quasimodo is tied up and ridiculed.   The only person to intervene is a gypsy named Esmeralda (Demi Moore) who cuts him free and chastises the crowd and Frollo.
Of course, Frollo doesn’t like people challenging him and he especially doesn’t like gypsies.  He orders his Captain of the Guard, Phoebus (Kevin Kline) to capture Esmeralda while he orders Quasimodo back into the cathedral. Phoebus, who does not approve of Frollo’s methods, tracks Esmeralda to the cathedral and tells her to request sanctuary to avoid being arrested. Frollo is furious at the church interfering with his plans again and his madness grows even worse when his lust for Esmeralda overwhelms him and strips away what little reason he still had.  He starts a campaign of terror against the gypsies and this time the church can’t help them.   Captain Phoebus’ struggles to do his duty but his conscience makes that very difficult to do and he will need to choose a side while Quasimodo begins to see that Frollo isn’t his well-intentioned adoptive father but a monster instead.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a beautiful movie to look at and the animation is superb, but the execution of it just didn’t work for me.  It was too over the top and the film’s operatic tone was just too much for my tastes.  The voice acting is fantastic however, with Tom Hulce delivering a sensitive performance as Quasimodo and Demi Moore and Kevin Kline are also unsurprisingly awesome.  Honestly, I could listen to Kevin Kline all day and I wish he would do more animation work as he’s perfect for it.  Tony Jay also does a nice turn as the evil Frollo and even though I didn’t like the direction his character took, his performance is still very good as he captures the madness and lust of Frollo quite well.
The other supporting characters like the gargoyles (which includes Seinfeld alum Jason Alexander) all do their parts well, but I think they should have been cut from the movie because the tonal shifts between Frollo’s madness doesn’t mesh well with the kiddie fun they provide.  It seems like Disney wanted it’s cake and to eat it too as they tried to deliver a movie with adult themes but then tried to temper it with stuff for the kids.  The end result is an unbalanced movie that doesn’t really appeal to either demographic.  The direct to video sequel fares even worse as it’s about as formulaic as it can get with a predictable story, forgettable songs that seem out of place in this series, and a drop of quality in the animation.  The only good thing about it is the fact that somehow the original cast was enticed back to play their roles again which is very rare for these kind of sequels.  Although the first movie isn’t perfect, it is ambitious and that’s something to root for nowadays when it seems everyone is taking the easy path.

Video (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 


The Hunchback of Notre Dame (4 out of 5 stars)  
The Hunchback of Notre Dame II (3 out of 5 stars) 
It’s almost a given that every Disney Blu-ray release will look fantastic as they always seem to put a lot of time and effort into their restoration efforts to protect their legacy.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame does look very good but it’s not quite at the same level of quality as most of their releases and the second movie fares even worse than the first one.  For the most part, the first movie looks good with solid colors, some nice detail, and nice dark black levels.  The bad news is the fact that there’s some banding and some artifacts that pop up here and there, but it’s not too bad but it’s enough to cost the movie one star.  The sequel looks worse but that’s mainly due to the made for television quality of its animation.  This lackluster effort is hard to believe as the animators didn’t even bother to keep Esmeralda’s eye color the same between movies.  The rest of the colors are off too, the black levels look soft, and there’s print damage and defects present.  I wasn’t much of a fan of the movie but Disney should have put some more effort into making it look as least as good as the first one.

Audio (4 out of 5 stars)  


The Hunchback of Notre Dame (4 out of 5 stars) 
The Hunchback of Notre Dame II (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 
The Hunchback of Notre Dame’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix offers a very strong lossless track that really sounds great.  The front channels deliver crystal clear dialogue while the LFE channel adds a lot of impact to several scenes.  The rear speakers provide a lot of atmosphere, especially during the “Festival of Fools” segment and other scenes like the ones in the cathedral benefit from its realistic and accurate directional effects.  The film’s score comes across very clearly but it does overwhelm the lyrics on occasion.  Once again, the sequel’s quality is lacking in comparison but that’s not to say that it doesn’t do the job, as it does.  It’s just that its direct to video roots are very noticeable when compared to the original film.  The dialogue is clear and the music sounds fine, but it’s obvious that it didn’t get the time or money to make it sound as good as the first one.

Extras (2 1/2 out of 5 stars) 


The Hunchback of Notre Dame (3 out of 5 stars) 
The Hunchback of Notre Dame II (2 out of 5 stars) 
Another expectation I have for Disney is for them to include their usual extensive extras for their main titles.  Of course, their direct to video releases usually don’t have much, but the main movies are generally jam packed with goodies.  This time however, that isn’t the case as there’s barely anything included which is really disappointing.
Here’s all you get:
The Hunchback of Notre Dame:
  • Audio Commentary - This feature length commentary includes directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale and producer Don Hahn who offer their thoughts about the making of the movie and how they wanted to adapt the story.  We also hear about about the cast and their characters, the music, and more.  
  • The Making of The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Although this extra is fairly cheesy, it’s still the best extra included on the disc.  Hosted by Jason Alexander, this extra spends almost thirty minutes talk about the movie and how it came about and what it took to make it.  
  • Multi-Language Reel - “A Guy Like You” 
The Hunchback of Notre Dame II:
  • Behind the Scenes - A five minute look behind the scenes with actress Jennifer Love Hewitt for the Disney Channel.
  • A Gargoyle’s Life -”It’s Not Easy Being a Gargoyle” short.

Summary (2 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

The first film was decent enough as it had great animation and the voice cast does a great job, but the overall quality goes downhill quick with the second one.  This Blu-ray offers better video and audio quality than the previous DVD release so if you like these movies then this is definitely an upgrade to consider.
Order your copy today!

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