The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996 film)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996 film)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Theatrical poster by John Alvin[1]
Directed by Gary Trousdale
Kirk Wise
Produced by Don Hahn
Written by Tab Murphy
Irene Mecchi
Bob Tzudiker
Noni White
Jonathan Roberts
Based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
Narrated by Paul Kandel
Starring Tom Hulce
Demi Moore
Tony Jay
Kevin Kline
Paul Kandel
Jason Alexander
Charles Kimbrough
Mary Wickes
David Ogden Stiers
Music by Alan Menken
Editing by Ellen Keneshea
Studio Walt Disney Feature Animation
Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures
Buena Vista Distribution
Release date(s) June 21, 1996 (1996-06-21)
Running time 91 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $70 million
Box office $325.5 million

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a 1996 American animated drama film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and released to theaters on June 21, 1996 by Walt Disney Pictures. The thirty-fourth animated feature in the Disney animated features canon, the film is inspired by Victor Hugo's novel of the same name. The plot centers on Quasimodo, the deformed bellringer of Notre Dame and his struggle to gain acceptance into society.

The film was directed by Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale and produced by Don Hahn. The songs for the film were composed by Alan Menken and written by Stephen Schwartz, and the film featured the voices of Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Kevin Kline, Paul Kandel, Jason Alexander, Charles Kimbrough, David Ogden Stiers, Tony Jay, and Mary Wickes (in her final film role). It belongs to the era known as Disney Renaissance, which refers to the ten-year era between 1989 and 1999 when the Walt Disney Animation Studios returned to making successful animated films, recreating a public and critical interest in the Disney studios. This animated film received a G rating by the Motion Picture Association of America, and was rated U by the British Board of Film Classification in the UK. Despite these ratings, the film is considered to be one of Disney's darkest animated motion pictures similar to films such as The Black Cauldron.[2]



The film is told primarily in flashback by gypsy puppeteer Clopin to a number of children.

One night, four gypsies are smuggled into Paris, just to be ambushed by a group of soldier-like thugs working for Judge Claude Frollo, the Minister of Justice. One gypsy, holding a bundle, resists arrest and is chased all the way to Notre Dame, where Frollo catches and kills her, taking the bundle and seeing a horribly deformed infant. Thinking that it is an unholy demon, Frollo prepares to drown the baby but is immediately stopped by the Archdeacon, who says that the only way to spare his soul from eternal damnation for murdering an innocent woman outside Notre Dame is to take the infant in as his own son, which Frollo reluctantly accepts.

Twenty years later, the boy, named Quasimodo, grows into a kind, and gentle young man, living in the bell tower and watched upon by Frollo, who constantly teaches him that he is a monster who would be ridiculed by the outside world. He has also led Quasimodo to believe that his mother had abandoned him at birth. Despite this, Quasimodo secretly rebels against Frollo's strict teachings and decides to attend the next Festival of Fools. At the Festival, Quasimodo and Frollo both cross paths with a young gypsy dancer, Esmeralda, and are taken with her. However, Quasimodo is discovered by the crowd and crowned as the King of Fools, much to Frollo's chagrin, whose thugs start a riot by pelting Quasimodo with fruit, and the crowd immediately follows, with Frollo refusing to call it off. Esmeralda intervenes and openly insults Frollo for his cruelty. Frollo then orders her arrested, but she manages to evade his thugs after a long chase through the festival.

Captain Phoebus, Frollo's benevolent Captain of the Guard, follows Esmeralda inside Notre Dame and strikes up a fast friendship with her, even protecting her from Frollo by claiming Sanctuary for her. Frollo and his thugs leave the cathedral, but Frollo threatens to arrest Esmeralda if she ever stepped outside. Esmeralda meets and bonds with Quasimodo. In return for her helping him at the Festival, Quasimodo helps Esmeralda escape without alerting the thugs. Before leaving, Esmeralda leaves Quasimodo a map to the gypsy hideout, the Court of Miracles, if he should ever decide to leave Notre Dame for good. Quasimodo, for his part, begins to fall in love with Esmeralda.

Frollo is plagued with nightmares about his own infatuation with Esmeralda, and vows to hunt her down and kill her in order to stop her supposed witchcraft. He starts a manhunt across Paris, burning down houses and killing innocent people in his way. Phoebus finally defies Frollo for the injustice and is ordered killed. He is injured, but rescued by Esmeralda, who takes him to Quasimodo for care. As she treats him, Esmeralda and Phoebus share an intimate moment, but Frollo arrives and Quasimodo has Esmeralda leave whilst he hides Phoebus. Frollo discovers that Quasimodo helped Esmeralda escape, but promises to free Quasimodo from her "evil spell" by attacking the Court of Miracles at dawn. When Frollo is gone, Phoebus implores Quasimodo to help him find the Court of Miracles and alert the gypsies, and Quasimodo reluctantly complies, using the map Esmeralda gave him.

Once at the Court, Quasimodo and Phoebus are caught and almost hanged by the gypsies as Frollo's spies, but Esmeralda arrives and clears the misunderstanding up. However, as the gypsies begin packing to leave, Frollo and his army of thugs arrive and arrest them all: he had bluffed, and followed Quasimodo and Phoebus. Frollo orders the gypsies locked up and Quasimodo imprisoned in the bell tower.

Frollo prepares to burn Esmeralda at the stake. He offers her a chance to live as his mistress, but she refuses and he lights the fire. This act of injustice and hypocrisy is what finally pushed Quasimodo too far, and he breaks out from the bell tower and rescues Esmeralda, taking her back to the bell tower and claiming sanctuary for her. Frollo orders his thugs to break down the door to the cathedral, but Phoebus frees himself along with everyone else and leads the gypsies and citizenry into battle with Frollo's thugs. Quasimodo pours a cauldron of molten copper onto the streets of Paris to drive the battle away, but Frollo still gets inside. Frollo tries to kill Quasimodo but Quasimodo fights him and rushes Esmeralda to safety on the balcony. During the struggle, Frollo admits that he killed Quasimodo's mother himself, before the fight sends Frollo falling off the balcony to his death. Quasimodo also falls but Phoebus reaches out in time and catches him on a lower floor, Esmeralda reunites with Quasimodo and Phoebus, and Quasimodo blesses Esmeralda's relationship with Phoebus.

The next morning, as the citizens celebrate their victory over Frollo's tyranny, Quasimodo finally emerges from the cathedral again, but this time, he is hailed as a hero and accepted into society by the grateful citizenry.


According to producer Don Hahn, the original idea for the film came from development executive David Stain, who was inspired to turn Victor Hugo's novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame into an animated feature film after reading the Classics Illustrated comic book adaptation. Stain then proposed the idea to Disney, who called on Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale to work on the project. Wise and Trousdale were working on other projects at the time, but "none of them were quite gelling", so they "jumped at the chance" to do the film. According to Wise, they believed that it had "a great deal of potential...great memorable characters, a really terrific setting, the potential for fantastic visuals, and a lot of emotion."[3]

The Hunchback of Notre Dame was the second Disney film directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise after the hugely successful Beauty and the Beast in 1991. The duo had read the novel and were eager to make an adaptation, but made several changes in order to make the storyline more suitable for children. This included making the film's heroes, Quasimodo, Esmeralda, and Phoebus, kinder than in the novel, changing Frollo from Archdeacon to Judge (and creating an original Archdeacon character), adding sidekicks in the form of three anthropomorphized stone gargoyles, and keeping Quasimodo and Esmeralda alive at the end. This ending is perhaps more inspired by Hugo's opera libretto based on his own book, in which Esmeralda is saved by Phoebus at the end of the drama.

The film's animators visited the actual cathedral at Notre Dame in Paris for a few weeks. They made and took hundreds of sketches and photos in order to stay fully faithful to the architecture and detail.

Several of the film's voice actors had been part of past projects Trousdale and Wise attended. For example, Tony Jay and David Ogden Stiers, the voices of Judge Claude Frollo and the Archdeacon, respectively, had previously worked on Beauty and the Beast, providing the voices of Monsieur D'Arque and Cogsworth/the narrator respectively (although their characters did not share any scenes together). Also, Paul Kandel, the voice of Clopin, was chosen after the directors saw him playing the role of Uncle Ernie in the opera production of Tommy. Demi Moore was chosen for the role of Esmeralda based on her unusual voice, as the directors wanted a non-traditional voice for the film's leading lady.

Despite the changes from the original literary source material in order to ensure a G rating, the film does manage to address mature issues such as lust, infanticide, sin, profanity, religious hypocrisy, the concept of Hell, prejudice, and social injustice, as well as acceptance that Quasi yearns for. Songs also contain rather mature lyrical content such as the words "licentious" or "strumpet" which introduce the concept of sexual indulgence, as well as frequent verbal mentions of Hell. Also notably, it is the first animated Disney film to use the word "damnation".

Cast and characters

  • Quasimodo (voiced by Tom Hulce) – The protagonist of the film. He is a courageous and enthusiastic character. He is the bellringer of the Notre Dame Cathedral. He is physically deformed with a hunched back and is constantly told by his guardian Judge Claude Frollo that he is an ugly monster who will never be accepted by the world outside. However, the opening song asks listeners to judge for themselves "who is the monster, and who is the man" of the two.
  • Esmeralda (voiced by Demi Moore, singing voice by Heidi Mollenhauer) – The deuteragonist of the film and a beautiful, streetwise, talented, and always-barefoot gypsy girl who befriends Quasimodo and shows him that his soul is truly beautiful, even if his exterior isn't. She is incredibly independent and greatly dislikes the horrible ways in which gypsies are treated. Throughout the movie, Esmeralda attempts to seek justice for her people. She falls in love with Captain Phoebus and helps Quasimodo understand that gypsies are good people. 'Esmeralda' is the Spanish and Portuguese word for 'Emerald', which may be why the animators chose to give her emerald green eyes.
  • Judge Claude Frollo (voiced by Tony Jay) – The antagonist of the film. Frollo is a ruthless and self-righteous judge who is Quasimodo's reluctant guardian. He has an intense hatred of the gypsy population, seeing them as "impure" and has a desire to annihilate their entire race. He also lusts after Esmeralda. Frollo generally does not see any evil in his deeds as he does them in honor of God, even though the Archdeacon often disapproves of his actions. However, at one point during the song "Hellfire", the priests singing the Confiteor manifest as his conscience, chanting the Latin words "mea culpa" ("my fault"), to reveal that Frollo ultimately knows the truth of his actions.
  • Captain Phoebus (voiced by Kevin Kline) – the tritagonist of the film and a soldier who is Frollo's Captain of the Guard. He falls in love with (and later marries) Esmeralda. He is a heroic idealist with integrity and does not approve of what Frollo thinks or does. This distinguishes him severely from his character in the original story. He has a horse named Achilles, to whom he says twice "Achilles, sit." on one of Frollo's soldiers.
  • Clopin (voiced by Paul Kandel) – The mischievous leader of the gypsies who will defend his people at all costs. He introduces the audience to the story, explaining how Quasimodo, the bell ringer from Notre Dame, got to be there.
  • Victor, Hugo, and Laverne (voiced by Charles Kimbrough, Jason Alexander, and Mary Wickes*, respectively) – Three gargoyle statues who become Quasimodo's close friends and guardians. In the DVD audio commentary for Hunchback, Wise, Trousdale, and Hahn note that the gargoyles might exist only in Quasimodo's imagination (ala Hobbes in Calvin and Hobbes) and thus may well be split-off pieces of his own identity. However, most of their characteristics, including Hugo's infatuation with the goat Djali, seem unique to their manifestations when present. This was Mary Wickes' final film. After Wickes' death, Jane Withers provided the remaining dialogue for Laverne.
  • The Archdeacon (voiced by David Ogden Stiers) – A kind man who helps many characters throughout the course of the movie, including Esmeralda. He is the opposite of Frollo: kind, accepting, gentle, and wise. He is the only figure in the film with authority over Frollo while he is inside Notre Dame. He appears in the beginning of the movie when he orders Frollo to adopt Quasimodo for killing his mother. He disapproves of most of Frollo's actions, and at the film's climax, Frollo, in his rage, openly defies him and knocks him down a flight of stairs.


  • Art director: David Goetz
  • Story supervisor: Will Finn
  • Layout supervisor: Ed Ghertner
  • Background supervisor: Lisa Keene
  • Clean-up animation supervisor: Vera Lanpher-Pacheco
  • Effects animation supervisor: Chris Jenkins
  • Computer graphics supervisor: Kiran Bhakta Joshi


The film's soundtrack includes a musical score written by Alan Menken and songs written by Menken and Stephen Schwartz. Songs include "The Bells of Notre Dame" for Clopin, "Out There" for Quasimodo and Frollo, "Topsy Turvy" also for Clopin, "God Help the Outcasts" for Esmeralda, "Heaven's Light" and "Hellfire" for Quasimodo, the Archdeacon, and Frollo, "A Guy Like You" for the gargoyles and "The Court of Miracles" for Clopin and the gypsies.


The film premiered on June 19, 1996 at the New Orleans Superdome, where it was played on six enormous screens. The premiere was preceeded by a parade through the French Quarter, beginning at Jackson Square and utilizing floats and cast members from Walt Disney World.[4] The film was widely released two days later.


The Hunchback of Notre Dame opened on June 21, 1996 to positive reviews. As of September 2011, Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a positive 73% based on 49 reviews with its consensus states "Disney's take on the Victor Hugo classic is dramatically uneven, but its strong visuals, dark themes, and message of tolerance make for a more-sophisticated-than-average children's film". [5] Despite this approval rating, Rotten Tomatoes placed it on their list of Kids' Movies Inappropriate for Children. Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert rewarded the film 4 star calling it "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". [6] Some criticism, however, was provided by fans of Victor Hugo’s novel, who were very unhappy with the changes Disney made to the material. Critics such as Arnaud Later, a leading scholar on Hugo, accused Disney of simplifying, editing and censoring the novel in many aspects, including the personalities of the characters. In his review,[7] Later wrote that the animators "don't have enough confidence in their own emotional feeling" and that the film "falls back on clichés." London's The Daily Mail called The Hunchback of Notre Dame "Disney's darkest picture, with a pervading atmosphere of racial tension, religious bigotry and mob hysteria" and "the best version yet of Hugo's novel, a cartoon masterpiece, and one of the great movie musicals".[2] Janet Maslin wrote in her New York Times review, "In a film that bears conspicuous, eager resemblances to other recent Disney hits, the film makers' Herculean work is overshadowed by a Sisyphean problem. There's just no way to delight children with a feel-good version of this story."[8]

In its opening weekend, the film opened in second place at the box office, grossing $21 million. The film saw small decline in later weeks and ultimately grossed just over $100 million domestically and over $325 million worldwide, making it the fifth highest grossing film of 1996.


The film currently stands with an 73% "fresh" rating at, with a 60% "fresh" rating by established critics (the "Cream of the Crop").[9]

American Film Institute Lists

Home video

The Hunchback of Notre Dame was first issued on original VHS, standard CLV Laserdisc, and special edition CAV Laserdisc on March 4, 1997 under the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection label. It was then re-issued on March 19, 2002 on DVD along with its direct-to-video sequel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II.

Other media


Disney has converted its adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame into other media. For example, Disney Comic Hits #11, published by Marvel Comics, features two stories based upon the film. From 1997 to 2002 Disney-MGM Studios hosted a live-action stage show based on the film and Disneyland built a new theater-in-the-round and re-themed Big Thunder Ranch as Esmeralda's Cottage, Festival of Foods outdoor restaurant and Festival of Fools extravaganza, which is now multipurpose space accommodating private events and corporate picnics.

The film was adapted into a darker, more Gothic musical production, re-written and directed by James Lapine and produced by the Disney theatrical branch, in Berlin, Germany. The musical Der Glöckner von Notre Dame (translated in English as The Bellringer of Notre Dame) was very successful and played from 1999 to 2002, before closing. A cast recording was also recorded in German. There has been discussion of an American revival of the musical, which was confirmed by composer Alan Menken in November 2010.[12]

Sequels and spin-offs

In 2002, a direct-to-video sequel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, was released on VHS and DVD. The plot focuses once again on Quasimodo as he continues to ring the bells now with the help of Zephyr, Esmeralda and Phoebus's son. He also meets and falls in love with a new girl named Madellaine who has come to Paris with her evil circus master, Sarousch. Disney thought that it was appropriate to make the sequel more fun and child-friendly due to the dark and grim themes of the original film.

Quasimodo, Esmeralda, Victor, Hugo, Laverne and Frollo all made guest appearances on the Disney Channel TV series House of Mouse. Frollo also can seen amongst a crowd of Disney Villains in Mickey's House of Villains.

Video games

In 1996, to tie in with the original theatrical release, The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Topsy Turvy Games was released by Disney Interactive for the PC and the Nintendo Game Boy, which is a collection of mini games based around the Festival of Fools that includes a variation of Balloon Fight.

Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu have revealed at the first Square Enix Premier Party that a world based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame, La Cité des Cloches (The City of the Bells), will make its debut appearance in the Kingdom Hearts series in the upcoming Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, making it the first new Disney world confirmed for the game. Quasimodo, Esmeralda, Phoebus and Frollo have been confirmed to appear so far.


  1. ^ Stewart, Jocelyn (2008-02-10). "John Alvin, 59; created movie posters for such films as 'Blazing Saddles' and 'E.T.'". Los Angeles Times.,1,5113268.story. Retrieved 2008-02-10. 
  2. ^ a b "I've Got a Hunch That This Is a New Disney Masterpiece". The Daily Mail (London, England): p. 44. 1996-07-12. 
  3. ^ Don Hahn, Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise (2003). History Of The Production Of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (DVD). Disney DVD. 
  4. ^ "It Happened Today: June 19". Retrieved 10/23/2011. 
  5. ^ "The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Rotten Tomatoes work=Rotten Tomatoes". Flixster, Inc.. Retrieved 2011-09-08. 
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger (1996-06-21). "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". Chicago Sun-Times. Sun Times Media Group. Retrieved 2011-09-08. 
  7. ^ Laster, Arnaud. "Waiting for Hugo". Retrieved 2007-08-19. 
  8. ^ Maslin, Janet (1996-06-21). "Film Review; The Dancing Gargoyles Romp and Wisecrack". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). Retrieved 2010-09-11. 
  9. ^ "Rotten Tomatoes: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)". Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  10. ^ AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals Nominees
  11. ^ AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot
  12. ^ Interview

External links

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