Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

`Hunchback' Swings like No Other Disney Classic

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

`Hunchback' Swings like No Other Disney Classic

Article excerpt

That awesomely efficient production line that churns out

Disney's annual animated features slipped a bit last year with

Pocahontas, a bland tale that was merely OK.

With The Hunchback of Notre Dame, it's back to its usual

standards, and then some. Hunchback is the most mature, the

most daring, of any of Disney's recent animated hits: More

brooding, less dependent on wisecracks, more emotionally

resonant than the others.

One telling difference: When the characters here fall in love,

it's not love at first sight. It's not love just because one

looks like a Barbie doll and the other's as hunky as a beach

volleyball player. No. Here you actually believe they've earned

that rhapsodic chunk of cartoon heaven.

That complexity and restraint, we have to note, makes it tough

slogging for the very young: At a recent preview screening, a

bunch of preschoolers got very restless, very quickly. Be

warned.

Disney's 34th full-length animated feature comes, you have to

admit, from an odd source: Victor Hugo's 1831 classic about

Quasimodo, the misshapen, much-scorned loner confined to the

bell tower of Notre Dame.

Disney, of course, has changed the story in many ways bound to

offend literal-minded grinches (we're guessing Hugo never

dreamed the gargoyles in his story would one day be

vaudevillians named Victor, Hugo and Laverne).

But Hunchback preserves the central, poignant heart of the book

-- the torment and loneliness of Quasimodo. He's a 20-year-old

orphan who seems forever stuck atop Notre Dame, despite the

urgings of his imaginary gargoyle friends -- the chief among

them is Jason Alexander, Seinfeld 's George -- who remind him

that "life's not a spectator sport." Given voice here, in a

perfectly straightforward way by Tom Hulce (Amadeus),

Quasimodo becomes a most unlikely (and thrilling) hero.

Temporary Jacksonville resident Demi Moore provides the voice

-- as well as the inspiration for the face and body -- of

Esmeralda, a gypsy dancer with whom Quasimodo falls thuddingly

in love. Though brave and spirited, she's no goody-goody: a

dance she does at one point seems to be lifted from Moore's

upcoming Striptease. …

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