Blu-ray
Recommended
3.5 stars
List Price
$20.00
Amazon
$14.96 (25%)
3rd Party
$10.18
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Overall Grade
3.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
3 Stars
HD Video Quality
3.5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4 Stars
Supplements
2 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Recommended

The Hunchback of Notre Dame / The Hunchback of Notre Dame II

Street Date:
March 12th, 2013
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
March 8th, 2013
Movie Release Year:
1996
Studio:
Disney/Buena Vista
Length:
0 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated G
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

'The Hunchback of Notre Dame'

After a string of hits that went on to be considered classics – 'Beauty and the Beast,' 'Aladdin,' and 'The Lion King,' – Disney hit a rough patch and started cranking out mediocre titles that failed to resonate as deeply with audiences. 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' highlights the "meh"-gic of Disney.

'Hunchback' is an extremely odd blend of seriousness and forced humor. What's interesting about it is also its downfall. The music numbers are staged like the songs from a musical play rather than an animated feature. This operatic approach provides for some pretty scoring, but does little in the memorable music department.

The other element that really nags at me when watching 'Hunchback' is that it feels like it's trying to be far more serious than any of the other Disney animated titles. The graphic bullying that takes place when Quasimodo is tied down in the middle of the town square is some of the starkest cruelty that's ever taken place in a Disney movie. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind Disney going for a darker approach, truthfully I welcome it. However, if you're going to go that far in one direction don't try to shoehorn in ridiculous humor in the form of joking gargoyles that hop around on torso stumps. Disney is no stranger to the annoying animal sidekicks, but the gargoyles in this movie are right up there with the worst of the worst.

It isn't all bad though. 'Hunchback's muddled tones don't overshadow how beautiful the animation is. Watching this again, on Blu-ray, reminded me that this is one of the best of the early animated movies to combine computer graphics with standard animation. The result is a sweeping awe-inspiring view of Paris. The Notre Dame cathedral shines in the Parisian sun. Whenever the ugly, oafish gargoyles aren't on screen, the movie is rather splendid to look at.

The story of Quasimodo was a strange choice for Disney to take on. Based on Victor Hugo's novel, it deals with a level of sadness that many Disney projects do not. It's also a story with deep religious underpinnings. Though, like other movies in the Disney catalog, a dash of happily ever after is thrown in so we don't feel overwhelming gloominess when the movie ends. Going dark is one thing, but actually playing out the real end to Hugo's novel is something completely different. That would've scarred children for decades.

There are some indelible truths etched into the story of Quasimodo and his banishment from the outside world. It's a story about how to overcome a cruel world; how to not judge a book by its cover; and that the only one in charge of your decisions is you.

When it comes right down to it, the packaging of this release says everything. Releasing films together with their deplorable DTV sequels has been Disney's way of throwing the second-tier catalogue titles at us. It simply never went down as a memorable Disney movie. A casualty of Disney's mid- to late-nineties slump.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

'The Hunchback of Notre Dame II'

The 66-miute direct-to-video sequel is also included in this package so I feel compelled to say a few words about it, even though it doesn't merit much discussion at all. Like the utterly ugly sequel to 'Pocahontas,' this one sucks all the life and charm out of the original animation, instead producing a movie that befits the starkly flat animation of a 'Duck Tales' episode.

It's a very sad movie to look at, let alone watch. Ever wanted to see a movie that's barely over an hour long but feels twice that? This is the one. Of course the irritating gargoyles are featured heavily here, because all of Disney's DTV sequels focused mainly on the ridiculous instead of focusing on adding more to the actual story.

Since poor Quasimodo, despite his good-natured intentions, was thrust into Esmeralda's friend zone in the first movie, this is the movie in which he must find love. He finds it in a circus performer named Madellaine (voiced by Jennifer Love Hewitt). It isn't that easy for Quasimodo though, nothing is. Not only has he got to overcome Madellaine's initial fears of his grotesquery, but he's also got to deal with a dastardly plot to steal a priceless bell from Notre Dame's tower. The plan is hatched by the leader of the traveling circus. Madellaine is a member of the troupe. Ah, the inevitable conflict that will be easily glossed over in order to arrive at a Happily Ever After ending.

There's really no point in wasting your time watching this subpar sequel of an already ho-hum movie. Sure it's only an hour, but it isn't an hour you'll want to readily give away. Even if you haven't seen it and your curiosity is tugging at you, use your better judgment and just let your kids watch it.

Rating: 1.5 Stars

Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

Disney has released this as a 3-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack. The 50GB Blu-ray holds an HD version of both movies. The movies are separated, however, on the DVDs. The release comes with an embossed slipcover and a Disney Movie Reward code.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

'The Hunchback of Notre Dame'

Disney has treated the original very well, giving it a crisp and mostly clean 1080p transfer. Honestly, I think I last watched 'Hunchback' on VHS, so yes, this is a definite upgrade. The source looked to be in excellent condition as there didn't appear to be any wear and tear at all. If there was, Disney easily took care of it, since I didn't notice one scratch or spot of grime the entire viewing.

The early CG elements fared well. They didn't appear very dated and looked smooth in HD. The animator's lines are have a defined resolution to them. Color fills never fluctuate. Every so often you might spot a hint of banding or a jaggie here and there. While this keeps it away from being considered for top honors, these minor nitpicks weren't anything that really detracted from my viewing pleasure.

Blacks are nice and deep. Primaries are bold. The color here is extremely vivid. It truly is enjoyable to look at even though the movie might leave you wanting.

Rating: 4 Stars

'The Hunchback of Notre Dame II'

The second movie, on the other hand, is limited by its source. This just isn't a very good looking animated film. It looks like it was created as a low-budget special for the Disney Channel or something. The animation is flat and lifeless.

Simply being an ugly animated film to begin with isn't enough to drop its score. However, this transfer does suffer from some untidy issues like noise in the form of specks and flecks that pop up on occasion. Banding is evident on more than a few instances. It looks how you'd expect one of Disney's underfunded, underdeveloped sequels would look. Colors are strong, although I did notice some color fill flickering. Along with the lackluster animation Disney has provided an average-as-they-come transfer.

Rating: 3 Stars

The Audio: Rating the Sound

'The Hunchback of Notre Dame'

Disney has provided a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track for 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame.' The audio mix does a good job at showcasing the movie's musical numbers and also provides ample room for all sorts of ambient sound.

The movie's score, however unmemorable, resonates through the channels with stunning clarity. The streets of Paris are alive with the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The clanging of the church bells fills each channel with beautiful echoing. One of the best examples of the encompassing effect of this mix's ability to produce believable ambient sound is during the Festival of Fools when Quasimodo gets mocked. People yell from every direction and voices ping-pong around the soundfield like you were actually standing there.

Directional effects up front, like pans, transition smoothly across the front speakers. The center speaker accurately delivers the movie's dialogue with the front speakers chiming in with purposefully placed directional dialogue. LFE is strong and heavy during the dramatic moments and used whenever the music swells to a show stopping crescendo. I found the entire presentation a joy to listen to.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

'The Hunchback of Notre Dame II'

The sequel's audio mix doesn't turn out as well though. It's still serviceable enough, but the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix does little more than serve to tell the story in front of you. There is little embellishment or pizazz. Even the musical numbers sound rather flat and uninspired.

Ambient noise isn't nearly as clear or as prevalent as it was in the first film's mix. The theatricality is missing and therefore the mix has little to work with. It's not that there are any glaring mistakes or unseemly crackling on the track, it's just that the movie gives the mix so little to work with that there's nothing notable about it. It's just there. It does its job and then goes away.

Rating: 3 Stars

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

'The Hunchback of Notre Dame'

  • Audio Commentary - Co-directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale are joined by producer Don Hahn to give the commentary. They're easy enough to listen to. They cover all the basics about the movie's production like the animation, the use of computer graphics, the casting, the songs, and so forth.

  • The Making of 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' (SD, 28 min.) - Hosted by Jason Alexander, who voices one of the gargoyles, this making of is far too trite to be taken seriously. It covers everything from voice work to animation technology.

  • Multi-Language Reel (SD, 3 min.) - "A Guy Like You" sung in various languages.

Rating: 2 Stars

'The Hunchback of Notre Dame II'

  • Behind the Scenes (SD, 5 min.) - A promotional piece for the movie that focuses on Jennifer Love Hewitt's involvement.

  • A Gargoyle's Life (SD, 3 min.) - A short animated poem entitled "It's Not Easy Being a Gargoyle."

Rating: 1 Star

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

There are no Blu-ray exclusives provided.

Final Thoughts

Since I'm one of those die-hard Disney collection completionists, it a silly question to ask me if I think picking up this Blu-ray is worth it. Although, 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame' definitely isn't one of Disney's strongest titles, I'm still inclined to provide a light recommendation based on the fact that the original (let's just forget the sequel is even included shall we?) is a joy to watch and listen to in HD.

Technical Specs

  • 3-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack
  • 50GB Blu-ray Disc
  • 2 DVDs

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.78:1
  • 1.66:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH, French, Spanish

Supplements

  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame Audio Commentary
  • The Making of The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  • Behind the Scenes with Jennifer Love Hewitt
  • Multi-Language Reel: A Guy Like You
  • A Gargoyle's Life

All disc reviews at High-Def Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More about our gear.

Puzzled by the technical jargon in our reviews, or wondering how we assess and rate HD DVD and Blu-ray discs? Learn about our review methodology.

List Price
$20.00
Amazon
$14.96 (25%)
3rd Party
$10.18
Usually ships in 24 hours Buy Now»