Quasi is back!
One of Disney's darker animated films, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame went on to become only a mild hit for the Mouse House (but a hit nonetheless). This retelling of the classic story featured a much prettier hunchback (voiced by Tom Hulce), a sexy gypsy girl (Demi Moore), and not one single talking animal (well, it had talking gargoyles but we won't count those). By the end of the original Hunchback Of Notre Dame all the loose ends were tied up and story lines finished. Or so it seemed. Apparently, Disney felt differently, for in 2002 fans were given the cleverly titled The Hunchback Of Notre Dame II. Featuring the voice talents of Kevin Kline (reprising his role from the original film), Michael McKean (Waiting For Guffman), Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense), and Jennifer Love Hewitt (Heartbreakers), The Hunchback Of Notre Dame II rings them bells care of Disney DVD!
Facts of the Case
The Hunchback Of Notre Dame picks up a few years after the original film ends. Leader of the guards Phoebus (Kline) and gypsy dancer Esmeralda (Moore) have married and produced a small child named Zephyr (Osment). Zephyr has struck up a friendship with Quasimodo (Hulce), who continues to live in the Notre Dame tower polishing the bells and discussing life's details with his three gargoyle pals (Jason Alexander, Charles Kimbrough, and Jane Withers). Everything is going dandy until the circus rolls into town one afternoon run by the insidious Sarousch (McKean). At first, the juggling clowns and goofy antics of the circus players enchant everyone, but Sarousch soon unveils his ulterior motive: stealing a ruby and diamond decorated tower bell from Notre Dame! Sarousch sends over his beautiful "servant" Madellaine (Hewitt) to lull Quasimodo away from the tower with her wily charms. But as Madellaine gets to know the gentle giant she finds herself falling for his unmistakable charms. Soon everyone is singing and dancing, and by the end of the film we'll all have learned a valuable lesson about inner beauty and what it means to truly love!
It had only been about five days since I'd seen the original The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (which I readily enjoyed), so that was fresh in my mind when I popped in the lackluster sequel The Hunchback Of Notre Dame II. To say the least, I was disappointed. This isn't to say that The Hunchback Of Notre Dame II is a bad movie; in fact, I think it's a very good film for children who need to learn that it's not what you look like, but who you are on the inside that counts. In an age where beauty and sex appeal overshadow kindness and love, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame II is a welcome addition to any child's film collection.
On the other hand, when compared to the original film, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame II pales by comparison. The first trouble spot was the fact that the animation was cheaply produced, preserving a quality normally reserved for Saturday morning cartoons. Shoddily animated by Disney's standards, this sequel will certainly disappoint those looking for the sheer spectacle and excitement of the original Hunchback. Personally, I was also disappointed that The Hunchback Of Notre Dame II's mood was more upbeat then the first film. However, I did prefer the more adult animated film Antz over Disney's more upbeat A Bug's Life, so that might explain where I'm coming from.
Then again, let's not kid ourselves: The Hunchback Of Notre Dame II wasn't really produced with adults in mind. While the film may be mildly entertaining to anyone over the age of 15, the sole target here was for children who are still learning about themselves and the world around them. The film clocks in at just over an hour, so it should keep a child's attention just long enough to watch the closing credits (which includes a syrupy, sappy Jennifer Love Hewitt song in the background). All of the actors in the film do a fine job with the voiceover work, though I couldn't help thinking that Moore and Kline must have had some stipulation in their contract that obligated them to come back for this sequel (indeed, Kline sounds like he's often just going through the motions and Moore's screen time is considerably less in this second outing). Newcomers Haley Joel Osment and Jennifer Love Hewitt are bland but efficient as the youngsters, and Michael McKean lowers his voice a few octaves to make Sarousch as evil and manipulating as possible (though he's no match for the original film's malicious baddie Frollo).
The Hunchback Of Notre Dame II doesn't stray far from the first film's ideals. Instead of having Quasimodo as the freak of nature, this film uses the cute Madellaine as its punching bag who must free herself from Sarousch's abusive bonds and find that she too (like Quasi) has worth. Don't mind the fact that life's probably a little easier than Quasimodo's since her face doesn't resemble that of one smacked by a frying pan a half-dozen times. The film's scant running time of just over an hour doesn't leave much room for intense characterization or story; instead, we're given a few montages of Quasi and Madellaine's romance among the streets of Paris (if only romance was this easy!) and a few forgettable musical numbers that seem to be included to promote a soundtrack CD.
This is the first Disney sequel I've watched on DVD. I can't say that after seeing The Hunchback Of Notre Dame II I'm very intrigued with seeing Cinderella II, Return To Neverland, or The Little Mermaid II (rumor has it that Cinderella II is appallingly bad). The Hunchback Of Notre Dame II is pure kids stuff from beginning to end…and I emphasize the word kids.
The Hunchback Of Notre Dame II is presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a fair-to-decent transfer that can't compare to Disney's original The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (a much better DVD package overall). As stated, the animation is less than stellar, meaning the colors don't have as bright or bold an appearance as one might have hoped. The black levels all appear to be dark and solid, though some artifacting did show up in a few key scenes. For a direct-to-video disc this transfer is serviceable—as a sequel, it's sloppy seconds.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English, French, and Spanish, as well as DTS Surround in English. After listening to both the DTS and Dolby 5.1 soundtracks, I can safely say that there isn't much difference between the two. Both are enveloping soundtracks that feature a nice amount of spaciousness and some exciting directional effects. Not surprisingly, the music and songs are what take precedent here, and the soundtrack utilizes them to full effect. Also included on this disc are English captions for the hard of hearing.
The Hunchback Of Notre Dame II features a few supplements for kids more than adults, starting with an activity center which features a neat little puppet game with Jolly the goat and a bell game that will enthrall small children. "Behind The Scenes with Jennifer Love Hewitt" is a four-minute or so short that features multiple interviews with bubbly star Jennifer Love Hewitt, plus interviews with some Disney channel kids slathering the film with faux praise ("It was incredible! It was great! It was awesome!"). Promo fluff to say the least, this featurette's end includes a glimpse of Hewitt crooning the film's love song complete with orgasmic diva hand gestures. Finally, there is a short poem titled "It's Not Easy Being a Gargoyle" read by Jason Alexander and sporting some scenes from the original film. This is amusing for kids, but ultimately pointless for the rest of us.
From an adult standpoint, this is a mediocre Disney effort that will warrant only a single viewing. Children are another beast altogether. I'm sure they'll spin this disc on your player until it's completely worn down to the nub. While I can't give The Hunchback Of Notre Dame II high accolades, I can say that its story and morals are of importance to kids needing a boost in their confidence.
The Hunchback Of Notre Dame II is guilty of being only half as good as its predecessor, but released on bail for its uplifting message. Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
• Festival Of Fun Activity: "Puppet Theater" and "Bells of Notre Dame" Game
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