Who is the Monster and who is the Man?
With this question, our movie starts and with this Disney delivered a beautiful and quite frankly under-appreciated film with a classic moral undertone of don’t judge a book by its cover/appearances aren’t everything. As part of the late 90’s Disney films, it often gets forgotten but for me it’s personally one of my favourite Disney films. Set in Paris, it tells the story of Quasimodo, a very untypical hero, who over the course of the film goes on a journey of self discovery and self confidence, showing the fullness of his heart and kindness.
Throughout his life, Quasimodo has been hidden in the depths of the Bell tower of Notre Dame due to his hunchback appearance poisoned with words by the villain of the piece, and Quasi’s master and guardian Frollo, a religious man and prosecutor. It isn’t until he one day is convinced by his stone gargoyle friends to go out into the streets of Paris and attend a festival that he meets other people, including a gypsy named Esmeralda (played by Demi Moore).
This is perhaps one of the darkest Disney film, dealing with issues such as persecution, loneliness, being an outsider in society and how that disadvantage you and exploring how religion can be twisted. Frollo remains as one of the most ruthless Disney villains created in my opinion, allowing his lust and obsession with Esmeralda to completely consume him. When you watch it at an older age, you realise just how unsettling and perverted it is.
It’s a film that’s unconventional in terms of a typical Disney story set up; a hunchback certainly isn’t a typical hero, but here Quasimodo is a true Disney hero, showing that appearances aren’t everything and leaving the audience in no doubt that he is certainly the man out of him and Frollo. It’s also a case of the hero doesn’t end get the girl at the end of the movie (although Phoebus is indeed a hero, he isn’t the ‘true hero’). Even though this doesn’t happen, Quasi learns a true life lesson and that he finally has people around him that are friends and not just stone gargoyles (which may or may not be real).
The true triumph of this film however is its music. Alan Menken who pens most, if not all the Disney films from the last 20 years of so teams up with Stephen Schwartz who has created hit musicals such as Wicked and Godspell and together they create a beautifully stunning score and lyrics. My particular highlight is the use of the choir which simply gives me goosebumps every time.
If you’ve never seen this Disney classic, I urge you to find a copy – it’s available on US Netflix and out on DVD – it’s such an under-rated movie and personally one of my favourites.
Esmerelda: You saw what he did out there, letting the crowd torture that poor boy. I thought if one person could stand up to him then – (Sighs) What do they have against people who are different anyway?