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Click to read our The Hunchback of Notre Dame: 2 Movie Collection Blu-ray + DVD review.
In March 2013, Disney re-issued The Hunchback of Notre Dame and its sequel in a 2 Movie Collection Blu-ray + DVD. For our all-new review of this newer edition, click here. To buy that combo pack, click here.


Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame DVD cover
Movie - 1996, G, 91 minutes, Disney; IMDb entry
Genre - Animation, Drama, Family
Cast - Voices of Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Tony Jay, Kevin Kline, Paul Kandel, Jason Alexander, Charles Kimbrough, Mary Wickes, David Ogden Stiers
Directors - Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
DVD - 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish), DTS 5.1 (English), subtitles - English; single-sided, dual-layered disc; $19.99 SRP (Was $29.99), Released 3/19/02

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Movie - The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a good film, but it doesn't feel like a Disney animated feature. For one thing, it's one of the most serious animated productions to come from Disney. There are elements of comedy, many of which aren't even from the stone Gargoyles which come to life and are supposed to provide laughs. Undoubtedly though, the Gargoyles feel out of place; while they are fine on their own, they do not seek to further the story.
The animation, characters, and story line are all rather dramatic and intense for the typical light-hearted fare. While The Lion King, for example, had a significant amount of drama and an intense story, it also had a lighthearted quality throughout. Hunchback, on the other hand, remains rather somber and straight-faced throughout, with probably the most adult of any Disney animated storylines. Quasimodo, orphaned at a very young age, is taken in by the pompous, merciless Frollo who keeps him hidden high in the Notre Dame Cathedral. Quasimodo, as his name implies, is not fully formed and is an embarassment to Frollo, who teaches him that he is an outcast and not set to explore life outside of the Cathedral. Quasimodo is the bell-toller and is lonely and sad.

Hunchback doesn't do a great job of mixing comedy and drama, and that's where its problems come from. But one is able to look past that shortcoming rather easily (surely, Disney felt the need to include some cutesy comedy to appease youngest viewers, but it is ultimately the schmaltz which weighs it down). While lacking the magic of Disney tradition, Hunchback is an engaging feature which stands in its own class of dramatic animation.

The title logo for Disney's 1996 animated film "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

Video - Hunchback is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. This anamorphic widescreen transfer looks great. The animation displays a seriousness and maturity that matches with the more austere tone of the film. The color pallette is darker than most Disney animated films; the shadowed scenery on display beautifully renders the classical Paris setting and one can feel the antiquity of the cathedral.
While the animation is not as vibrant as say Tarzan or Aladdin, there is wonderful artwork on display, from the colorful parade to the stained-glass windows within Notre Dame. I really had trouble noticing any of the downfalls other reviews seemed to notice. The film looks great!

Audio - Hunchback gets 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks. Both the DTS and Dolby tracks sounded similar when listened to at the same volume level. The soundtrack is very active and alive, and is a major element in contributing to the suspense and emotion that the film packs. While the songs for the most part aren't as memorable as The Lion King or The Little Mermaid, and they even seem to detract from the film at times, the audio is nicely conveyed here. The subwoofer is rather active as well, as there is quite a bit of bass in the soundtrack. No complaints here.

Extras - Supplemental material is where it becomes a bit harder to praise this DVD. Laserdisc enthusiasts will remember that Hunchback had a great collectible LD set - Disney's last great effort on the format back in 1997. Unfortunately, not all of this content makes its way to the DVD. We do get an audio commentary from Producer Don Hahn and directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale. Then there is a 28-minute making-of documentary, which is undoubtedly one of the most entertaining Disney making-of pieces, due to host Jason Alexander and the special's humorous tone. That's about it in the way of significant supplements. There is a "Topsy Turvy" sing-along, which is the usual movie scene with lyrics on screen deal. There is a Multi-Language Reel for the song "A Guy Like You", which as the description implies, shows the scene translated into several different languages. Lastly, there is a "Topsy Turvy Underground Game" which lets the viewer remix the sound effects for three different scenes. Eight Sneak Peeks for other films are included, but no theatrical trailer for Hunchback is present.

What from the LD is the DVD missing, you ask? Three deleted songs - "Someday", "In a Place of Miracles" and "As Long As There's a Moon" - were on the LD, with commentary from songwriter Alan Menken . The theatrical trailers which are nowhere to be found on this DVD were included in the LD set. All the Sing-Alongs from the Sing-Along VHS tapes were present on the LD; only the aforementioned "Topsy Turvy" made the DVD. The laserdisc also provided song demos for "The Bells of Notre Dame", "Hellfire", and "Out There." Lastly, the extensive gallery of concept art from the LD is not present in any form on the DVD.

What you might not know is that for a brief time earlier this year, on Disney's Hunchback DVD site, specs were posted for a 2-disc Collector's Edition release. The 2-disc specs mysteriously disappeared within a few hours, and this DVD release does not contain much of what was included. Word has it that Disney made a conscious decision to withhold extras from this release to include on a better DVD release to come in the future. So, when will this 2-disc set come? Naturally, there is no definite answer to that one, but I'd suspect it will be some time before Hunchback gets the full bells-and-whistles DVD treatment.
It is certainly disappointing that after waiting five years for the film to make its DVD debut that Disney did not make this DVD release what it should have been.

Closing Thoughts - In comparison to the other 1990s animated classics (pre-Tarzan), Hunchback has received a pretty solid DVD. The video and audio quality are up to snuff, and Disney has even thrown on a directors' commentary and a worthwhile documentary. Yes, it's not everything it should be, but this DVD is certainly worth getting if you're among those who love this underappreciated and mistargeted more dramatic Disney. Compared to the releases of Mulan, Hercules, and Pocahontas, Hunchback is definitely a more satisfying overall DVD and buying it now may be favorable than waiting for a better edition to come some time in the future.

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Related Reviews:
The Hunchback of Notre Dame & The Hunchback of Notre Dame II (2 Movie Collection Blu-ray + DVD)
Aladdin (Platinum Edition) The Lion King (Blu-ray + DVD) Toy Story (Special Edition Blu-ray + DVD)
Directed by Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise: Beauty and the Beast (Blu-ray + DVD) Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Pocahontas (2 Movie Blu-ray + DVD) Hercules Mulan (2 Movie Blu-ray + DVD) Tarzan (Collector's Edition)
The Nightmare Before Christmas (Collector's Edition) A Goofy Movie Dinosaur (Collector's Edition)
Paris: Ratatouille The Aristocats (Blu-ray + DVD) Renaissance Rush Hour 3 | Gary Trousdale: Shrek the Halls

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Reviewed September 4, 2002.