One of the most controversial of Disney’s late-90s animated features (and it’s sequel) goes high-definition for the first time in The Hunchback of Notre Dame Two Movie Collection Blu-ray. I used to watch and collect all of the Disney films of the 90’s, and I remember getting excited when The Hunchback of Notre Dame was released in 1996. While it wasn’t as popular as some of the others released in that decade, I always thought it was a sleeper hit. The lively characters and adventures featured here still manage to serve up some of that Disney magic that’s sure to ring in family film night like never before.
While the original film is an underrated classic (one that’s far better than most critics would give it credit for), there’s really no good reason for its direct-to-video sequel to exist at all, except as a glaring reminder of a bygone time when Disney would go out of their way to create a franchise out of everything they released. That said, having the original film remastered in high-definition is a treat and should be considered the main selling point for this collection.
The story follows Quasimodo (voiced by Tom Hulce), the lonely bell ringer of the Notre Dame cathedral who may look rough on the outside but has a beautiful inside. He stays to himself inside the bell tower and is looked after by the menacing magistrate Frollo (Tony Jay) who keeps him locked away in the tower. Luckily Quasimodo has three stone gargoyle pals that come to life (voiced comically by Charles Kimbrough, Jason Alexander and Mary Wickes) and some handmade wooden dolls as playmates. One day he decides to go into the town square where a band of gypsies is putting on a show, and meets the lovely dancer Esmeralda (Demi Moore) whom he falls head over heels for. Of course when Frollo learns of this, he vows to have Esmeralda put to death, which leaves Quasimodo to embark on an adventure to save her along with the captain of the guard named Phoebus (Kevin Kline) who has also fallen for her.
In the 2002 direct-to-video sequel, a scheming magician named Sarousch (Michael McKean) and his assistant Madellaine (Jennifer Love Hewitt) set their sights on stealing the very valuable bell La Fidel from the Notre Dame cathedral. So, he sends Madellaine to distract our hero Quasimodo (Tom Hulce) while he steals it. Since he’s never had anyone love him before, Quasimodo falls madly for Madellaine, but things soon fall apart when he learns about her master’s intentions and when his best friend named Zephyr (Haley Joel Osment), the son of Esmeralda and Phoebus, is kidnapped by Sarousch so he can escape with the bell. The leads to yet another adventure as our misshapen hero does everything he can to get both the bell and Zephyr back while possibly finding true love in the process.
Watching these films again in HD was a treat in itself, as they brought back some fond memories of why I enjoyed them so much back in the day. The video transfer here by Disney is, as always, impeccable, as the bright colors and details show up exactly like they should. The DTS-HD 5.1 audio also comes through nicely, making sure every sound and song is heard crystal clear.
There’s a few extras for both films, such as audio commentary for the original film by directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise along with producer Don Hahn. The three discuss all sorts of interesting facts such as the three year stint to get the film released, casting changes and more. “The Making of The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is a neat featurette featuring host Jason Alexander as he talks with some of the other cast members and crew about their work on the film. There’s also a few more extras pertaining to both movies that’s sure to entertain those who enjoy them.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame Two Movie Collection Blu-ray may not be as popular at the other Disney collections that have been released, but it still has plenty of charm that’s sure to some win fans of the company’s classics over while introducing them to an all-new generation. Hunchback remains one of the more underrated features from the era, with dazzling animation and memorable songs that stand up today. Let’s be honest – if there’s one Disney film that really didn’t need a direct-to-video sequel, it’s this one. But that doesn’t change the fact that it exists and it’s not as bad as it could have been. For those Disney fans and collectors looking to ring in family night with a great movie collection, this Blu-ray is sure to please.
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Walt Disney Studios