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25 years of “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”, one of Disney’s most underrated events

Released in 1996, “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” remains, to this day, one of the most controversial titles in the Walt Disney pantheon – not because it brings subliminal messages or masked prejudices, but because it invests in a more obscure theme than the previous works.

The animation, directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, is one of the main adaptations of Victor Hugo’s classic eponymous novel, despite changing key points of the narrative to present it to a young audience. The book, first published in 1831, is one of the icons of the French Romantic movement and, like ‘Les Misérables’ (also signed by the author), brings many anthropological reflections through the contrast between the values ​​entrenched of the clergy and the marginalized layers of society, such as the gypsies. Both in the original and in the House Mouse tale, the plot centers on Quasimodo, a hunchbacked man who lives atop Notre Dame and under the tutelage of Archdeacon Claude Frollo, a cleric who struggles against sinful acts, even if he surrenders to them. constantly.

Adapting a work of such weight for cinemas, especially for such a specific audience and in a genre that did not admit much daring – and this perhaps explains the relative failure compared to the productions of the time, inserted in a time known as the Renaissance Disney Era. “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” made a modest noise at the box office, grossing $ 325.3 million worldwide on a whopping $ 100 million budget. For comparison, ‘A Pequena Sereia’, released in 1989, and ‘A Bela ea Fera’, 1991, had relatively small budgets and, in addition to universal acclaim, had a commercial boom, even eclipsing d ‘other country iterations.

The truth is that the animation in question was already set in a troubled context, in which traditionalist segments of society were already complaining about the maintenance of family values ​​and ethics – and not accepting anything that deviates from the standard. Of course, this factor was not a determining factor for the lukewarm start of production, as Disney has always relied on whimsical constructions to send positive messages to young viewers. And as screenwriter Tab Murphy, with his extensive creative team, flipped through the pages of Hugo’s novel, he may have taken away so much of the novel’s critical essence that he shaped the story to as it pleases, not realizing that the reviews of the trails were too strong to be understood.

For those who don’t remember, the film brought together dubbing actors like Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Tony Jay, and Kevin Kline and focused primarily on Quasimodo, who was “greeted” by Frollo after killing him. his mother, becoming responsible for ringing the bells of the cathedral. Protected from the outside world, Quasimodo had only the fun gargoyles of the tower to talk to, but he was eager to meet the troop of gypsies who roamed the streets of Paris and ventured into the world – as well as so many. other protagonists of House Mouse. However, it’s not that upbeat story (which we already know how it ends) that holds us back, but the obscure conduct of every subplot that spreads through every character.

Set in the 15th century, during the reign of Louis XI, the tense situation between religious leaders, a declining monarchy and the rise of minority groups in a segregated community was also introduced in the 1996 film without many filters so to speak. . Esmeralda and Frollo, two opposing forces representing justice and impunity respectively, set ablaze with heavy dialogues that seem too familiar to discourse of resistance and class struggle; the hunt for French soldiers and anti-Gypsy hostility resulted in death threats and public humiliations; the use of illusionistic tricks is also reminiscent of the inquisitorial period of medieval Europe, where the incomprehensible was seen as something demonic and subject to eternal damnation.

Unlike so many other works, the one-dimensionality of the characters is set aside by an interesting complexity and, for this reason, outside the standards of symbology that Disney directors used to imprint. Frollo begs the Virgin Mary to free him from the lustful desires he has for Esmeralda, eliminating the rage accumulated in the prayers against eternal damnation and against the spell that the gypsy has cast on him (see “Hellfire”, a powerful song of resentment and divine vengeance); Esmeralda, portrayed as a gentle woman, does not remain silent in the face of inequalities and authoritarianism, always seeking to free the community to which she belongs from suffering unjustifiable reprisals; Quasimodo, confronted with his own deformity and the one he once considered his father, is welcomed by the gypsies and realizes that beauty goes far beyond superficiality; and even Phoebus, captain of Frollo’s guard, meditates on the morals assigned to him by allying with Esmeralda.

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As its 25th anniversary approaches, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” remains an underrated and controversial Disney title – criticized by Hugo fans, moviegoers and pundits for a thematic and creative imbalance that didn’t sound right. for no one. Yet these are the same reasons that demonstrate the importance and daring of animation to escape the rigid precepts of the genre and open discussions which, years later, would gain the mainstream screenplay scene.

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