Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Year: 1996

Source materials : Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo

Budget: $100 million

Box office: $325.3 million

Plot: In 1482 Paris, Clopin, a gypsy puppeteer, tells the tale of the bell ringer of Notre Dame. A group of gypsies are discovered by Judge Claude Frollo. A gypsy woman attempts to flee with her baby, but Frollo chases and kills her outside Notre Dame. As he attempts to kill the baby, the archdeacon intervenes and accuses Frollo of murder. Fearing damnation, Frollo agrees to raise the deformed child in Notre Dame as his son, naming him “Quasimodo.” 1


Twenty years later, Quasimodo has lived inside the cathedral his entire life. A trio of living stone gargoyles, Victor, Hugo, and Laverne, serve as Quasimodo’s only company, and encourage him to attend the annual Festival of Fools. Quasimodo attends the festival and is celebrated for his appearance, only to be humiliated by the crowd.


Frollo refuses to help Quasimodo, but a gypsy girl named Esmeralda frees the hunchback, and uses a magic trick to escape Frollo sends Quasimodo back inside the cathedral.



Esmeralda follows Quasimodo inside, and is herself followed by Captain Phoebus. She claims sanctuary and Phoebus refuses to arrest her. Instead she is confined to the cathedral. Esmeralda befriends Quasimodo, who, grateful for her help, helps her escape. She gives Quasimodo a pendant containing a map to the gypsies’ hideout, the Court of Miracles.


When Frollo, who has developed lustful feelings for Esmeralda, discovers that she escaped, he orders a manhunt involving setting fire a number of houses. Phoebus defies him, and Frollo sentences him to death. Fleeing, Phoebus is struck by an arrow and falls into the Seine, but Esmeralda rescues him and takes him to Notre Dame for refuge. The gargoyles encourage Quasimodo to confess his feelings for Esmeralda, but he realizes that she and Phoebus have fallen in love.


Frollo returns to Notre Dame and discovers that Quasimodo helped Esmeralda escape. He tells Quasimodo that he knows the location of the Court of Miracles and that he intends to attack at dawn. Using the map Esmeralda gave him, Quasimodo and Phoebus find the court to warn the gypsies. However Frollo follows them and captures the gypsies.


Esmeralda rejects Frollo’s advances advances, and he preoares to burn her at the stake. Quasimodo rescues her and brings her to the cathedral. Phoebus releases the gypsies and rallies the citizens of Paris against Frollo and his men, who try to break into the cathedral. Quasimodo and the gargoyles pour molten lead onto the streets to ensure no one enters, but Frollo manages to get inside.

Frollo chases them to the balcony where he and Quasimodo both fall over the edge. Frollo falls to his death in the molten lead, while Quasimodo is caught by Phoebus on a lower floor.

Afterward, Quasimodo accepts that Phoebus and Esmeralda are in love. The two encourage him to leave the cathedral into the outside world, where he is accepted into society.

Background: The idea to adapt Notre Dame de Paris came from David Stainton who then proposed the idea to Jeffrey Katzenberg. In October 1993, Trousdale, Kirk Wise, David Goetz, Roy Conli, Ed Ghertner, Will Finn, Alan Menken, and Stephen Schwartz took a trip to Paris for reference. Three days were devoted to exploring Notre Dame as well as visits to the Palace of Justice and an original location of the Court of Miracles.


The gargoyles of Notre Dame were added to the story by Trousdale and Wise. Their portrayal as comedic friends and confidantes of Quasimodo was inspired by a portion of the novel, which reads “The other statues, the ones of monsters and demons, felt no hatred for Quasimodo…The saints were his friends and blessed him the monsters were his friends, and protected him. Thus he would pour out his heart at length to them.”

Producer Don Hahn evaluated that one inspiration for Frollo was found in Ralph Fiennes’s performance as Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List, who murders Jews yet desires his Jewish maid.

Changes from the Source Material: Oh boy…



  • The character of Pierre Gringoire is completely absent from the film. He is a poet who is forced to marry Esmeralda in the Court of Miracles
  • Quasimodo was left by the Gypsies in place of Esmeralda, whom they abducted.
  • Quasimodo is deaf
  • Frollo is an archdeacon in the novel.
  • He also has a brother absent from the novel
  • Frollo orders Quasimodo to kidnap Esmeralda, but the hunchback is captured by Phoebus and his guards.
  • Phoebus is not as nice a guy in the novel. He is engaged to Fleur-de-lys (not in the novel) but wants to sleep with Esmeralda
  • Clopin, the leader of the Gypsies, rallies the citizens of Paris to charge the cathedral and rescue Esmeralda.
  • Clopin is killed
  • Frollo captures Esmeralda and hangs her.
  • Quasimodo dies of a broken heart
  • There are no talking gargoyles
  • The ending was partially based Hugo’s own libretto of an opera version, in which Phoebus saved Esmerelda.

Animation: Storyboards for the film were among the first to be produced at the new Disney Feature Animation building adjacent to the main Disney lot in Burbank, which was dedicated in 1995. However, as the Feature Animation building was occupied with The Lion King and Pocahontas at the time, most of the animation team was moved out into a large warehouse facility in Glendale, California, nicknamed “Sanctuary.”

Computer animation was used for large-scale crowd scenes, the Feast of Fools sequence and the final confrontation, 2 and scenes of Quasimodo swinging around the cathedral.

Songs: The film’s songs were written by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz

  • “The Bells of Notre Dame”
  • “Out There”
  • “Topsy Turvy”
  • “God Help the Outcasts”
  • “Heaven’s Light”
  • “Hellfire”
  • “A Guy Like You”
  • “The Court of Miracles”

Voice Cast:



Tom Hulce as Quasimodo. He is best known for his role as Larry “Pinto” Kroger in Animal House and his Academy Award-nominated portrayal of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Amadeus. He has an Emmy Award 3 and a Tony Award. 4 Demi Moore as Esmeralda 5 She is best known for her work in Blame It on Rio, St. Elmo’s Fire, About Last Night…, Ghost, A Few Good Men, Indecent Proposal, Disclosure, Striptease, 6 and G.I. Jane. She starred in Wild Oats on Netflix and joined the cast of Empire in a recurring role.



Tony Jay 7 as Judge Claude Frollo. He appeared in Beauty and the Beast,as Megabyte in ReBoot, and took over the voice of Shere Khan from George Sanders. He was originally set to play Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. He appeared in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, The Golden Girls, Twin Peaks, and Night Court. Kevin Kline as Captain Phoebus. He won three Tony Awards. 8He made his film debut in Sophie’s Choice. In 1988 he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in A Fish Called Wanda. Other films include The Big Chill, Silverado, Cry Freedom, Dave, The Ice Storm, In & Out, The Road to El Dorado, De-Lovely, The Conspirator, My Old Lady, and the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast. Since 2011, Kline has had a recurring role on Bob’s Burgers.



Paul Kandel as Clopin Trouillefou. He is a Broadway veteran , he appeared in Jesus Christ Superstar as King Herod, Titanic, and The Visit. Kandel received a nomination for the 1993 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of Uncle Ernie in The Who’s Tommy. Charles Kimbrough as Victor. He was nominated for a Tony for best featured actor in a musical as Harry in Stephen Sondheim’s Company and performed in the original Broadway cast of Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George. For ten seasons played the straight-faced anchorman Jim Dial on Murphy Brown.



Jason Alexander as Hugo. On Broadway he appeared in Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along, Kander & Ebb’s The Rink, Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound, Accomplice, and Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, for which he garnered the 1989 Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. He is best known as George Costanza on Seinfeld. Mary Wickes as Laverne. 9 She has an extensive resume: Now, Voyager, The Man Who Came To Dinner, June Bride, Who Done It?, On Moonlight Bay, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, White Christmas, The Trouble with Angels and Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows. She served as the live-action reference model for Cruella De Vil in One Hundred and One Dalmatians and played Mrs. Squires in The Music Man. On TV, she appeared on Make Room for Daddy, Dennis the Menace, and I Love Lucy. Later in her career she appeared in Postcards from the Edge, the Sister Act movies, and Little Women.

Some returning voices: David Ogden Stiers as the Archdeacon, Frank Welker as Djali, Corey Burton and Bill Fagerbakke as two of Frollo’s soldiers, and director Gary Trousdale as The Old Heretic.

Critical Reception:
Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert rewarded the film 4 stars, 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”. In his written review for the Chicago Tribune, Gene Siskel awarded the film 3½ (out of a possible 4) stars describing the film as “a surprisingly emotional, simplified version of the Victor Hugo novel” with “effective songs and, yes, tasteful bits of humor”.

Legacy: In 2002, the direct-to-video sequel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, was released on VHS and DVD. 10


The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Topsy Turvy Games was released by Disney Interactive for the PC and the Nintendo Game Boy. A world based on the movie, “La Cité des Cloches,” made its debut appearance in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance.


A darker, more Gothic stage adaptation of the film, was rewritten and directed by James Lapine and produced by Walt Disney Theatrical in Berlin, Germany, as Der Glöckner von Notre Dame, and ran from 1999 to 2002.

My take: There’s a lot of things to like about this film. The voice acting is very good. I could listen to Tony Jay read the phone book, and Kevin Kline is always great. “Achilles, heel.” is probably the best line in the film.

The animation is incredibly detailed. The opening sequence even reminds me of Pinocchio.

The songs are okay. I wonder why they wrote “Out There” in such a high key, clearly out of Hulce’s comfort zone.

There’s also the fact that I know the story has been changed, some might say sanitized, much like watching Pocahontas. I like the actors who play the gargoyles, but not the actual gargoyles

Next Week: We head to Olympus for Hercules