“Let her be mine and mine alone” | The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

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In 1831 Parisian publisher Gosselin released Notre-Dame de Paris, the first full-length novel by author Victor Hugo. It is a dark, overtly sexual tragedy set in 15th century Paris, in which a gypsy performer named Esmerelda becomes the target of Notre Dame’s conflicted and laviscious Archdeacon Claude Frollo. He sends his adopted son, the orphaned hunchback Quasimodo, to kidnap Esmerelda – only Quasimodo falls in love with her and refuses to obey Frollo’s commands. Meanwhile Esmerelda seems most interested in city guard captain Phoebus, so Frollo arranges to have Phoebus murdered and Esmerelda hanged for the crime. By the novel’s conclusion Esmerelda is executed on Frollo’s orders, Frollo himself has been fatally thrown from the bell tower of Notre Dame cathedral and a heartbroken Quasimodo has starved himself to death.

162 years later directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise set about the task of adapting this dark, sensual near-six hundred page novel into a family friendly animated musical for Walt Disney Pictures. It is one of the most bizarre creative choices I have seen: bizarre that someone had the idea, bizarre that they actually developed it to pitch, bizarre that Disney executives Frank Wells, Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg greenlit it for production, bizarre that it actually made it into cinemas and most of all bizarre that it reached the screen with so much of its tragedy, violence, Catholicism and deep-seeded sexual obsessions intact.

It is an outstanding achievement in feature film animation, but there’s no questioning the fact that it is about the strangest animated film ever released by the Walt Disney Company. It simply defies rational explanation. Continue reading ““Let her be mine and mine alone” | The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)”