Thursday, September 26, 2013

Disney Sequelester - The Hunchback of Notre Dame II

Well this just screams "quality".
Much like with Lady and the Tramp II, truly I'm baffled as to how this movie came about. The original Hunchback of Notre Dame wasn't even all that popular - too many creepy old priests, not enough cutesy animals. 

The original Hunchback is a good, though flawed, movie. Its biggest strength (as is so often the case in Disney movies) is its diabolical yet compelling villain Frollo. In many ways he's the most complex Disney villain ever, and yet that complexity doesn't stop him from being horrifyingly evil. Frollo believes in the law of the Catholic Church, but not the message behind it - he feeds, clothes, and educates Quasimodo, but makes it clear to Quasimodo that he is worthless. He chases down a woman on horseback and when she falls to her death on the steps of a church seeking sanctuary, he feels no remorse, since he didn't personally raise his hand to kill her. As the movie goes on, Frollo's sinful desires (particularly his lust for Esemerlda, all the more damning because he can't explain it away as "for justice" like he does other urges) begin to consume him, to the point where he gives into his wickedness entirely without even a pretense at doing God's work. 

That'll be a triple order of ew, coming right up.
He's an impressively crafted character, and he has one of the absolute best - and certainly most controversial - songs of any Disney movie with "Hellfire". Even the name is controversial in and of itself, for a children's movie!

I think a lot of young girls like this movie because of Esmerelda, who is essentially an updated Cinderella. She's has a whole song about being a martyr for the good of her people. But because Esemerelda is smart and lively, she's entertaining rather than boring like poor old Cinders. And eeeeeeeveryone wants to put Esmerelda on their dance card, from scarf-sniffing priests to the super white captain of the guards to the hunchback in the tower. Basically she's a total Mary Sue who never makes any mistakes, but she's still a fun character, and thankfully she's not the main character, so the movie gets away with it much more easily.

Eat your heart out, Eponine.
Hunchback's two biggest flaws are its relatively boring main character and its painful "comic relief". Quasimodo is... nice. And that's about it. It's not that he's entirely flat - like Hercules, he's allowed a range of emotion from desperate hope to murderous anger - but like Hercules, he's just generally a kind of nice dude. And kind of nice dudes aren't very interesting without some phenomenally clever writing, which this movie doesn't have.

Then there's the gargoyles. Dear Disney: you made a movie about a hunchback and a persecuted ethnic minority being pursued by a villain whose motivation is lust and revenge. Do not feel the need to add singing gargoyles who make fart jokes. Love, Selma.

Seeking consistent tone...
All this is to say that in The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, Disney made the genius decision to dial Esemerelda and its villain way down, and to turn the gargoyles and Quasimodo up to 11. And to give him a proto-Bella Swan klutzariffic love interest. And to center the movie around a nonexistent love festival that depends on a bell, as all decent love festivals do. Good plan!

So the movie starts out with some of the most depressing shifts in animation quality we've seen thus far. I mean, at least Cinderella was made back in the 50s, you know? One of the big advantages the original Hunchback had was absolutely stunning animation that really took advantage of scale and angles, particularly from heights, since the main character was a bellringer.

The lyrics that accompany this shot: "such a busy buzzing hive"
Esmerelda and Phoebus are married and have a kid now. A really, really annoying kid named... Zephyr? What? I guess it's a reference to his father's name, but... really? Zephyr? That was the best they could come up with? Good lord.

Zephyr (...) and Quasimodo are somewhat disturbingly close. They keep talking about how they're best friends forever and ever and ever and they'll never leeeeeaaaveeee each other and now I'm uncomfortable.

But the plot waits for no woman. The CIRCUS has come to town, because the citizens of Paris needed a new group to discriminate against. Only in this case it's completely justified, since all but one of the carnies are in fact thieves, so... I guess the moral of Hunchback II is that discrimination is sometimes entirely justified. Good talk.

Sarousche steals from all the townsfolk at his circus, but he has his eyes on a bigger prize... La Fidel, because it's BEAUTIFUL ON THE INSIDE AND IF YOU DON'T GET THE PARALLEL, BY GOD DISNEY WILL SLAM YOU OVER THE HEAD WITH IT UNTIL YOU SURRENDER.

"Takes more than looking to really see."
A) Bullshit
B) What exactly is THAT supposed to mean, Esmerelda?
Also, what is UP with Disney and its affinity for prancing foppish villains? Off the top of my head we have: Scar, Jafar, the organ (...) from Beauty and the Beast: Enchanted Christmas, Ratcliffe, Captain Hook, Hades... I don't get it.

Here we encounter the real problem with the movie (other than horrible animation, terrible screenwriting, flat characters, and a boring plot). Sarousche sends his assistant Madellaine (no really, that is the official way it's spelled, I research this shit for you) to woo Quasimodo in order to "find out which bell is La Fidel". This is important enough that when she fails the first time...

Failing looks like this.
...he sends her back again. That's great, but THERE IS AN ENTIRE FESTIVAL CENTERED AROUND THIS DAMN BELL. This is not top secret information. It's the bell that rings at the festival, the end. Also, Quasimodo is the most desperate Nice Guy in all of Disneydom except possibly Hercules, and would have been thrilled to have anyone ask him anything. This did not require wooing.

Then, the instant Madellaine walks in the door, the gargoyles start saying, "It's her! Get out there!" and freaking out about his new honey. Except Quasimodo has never met her before. And then right after she runs off in horror they go see her perform, and Esmerelda and Phoebus start going all "oooh is that her" as well. How do they know who Madellaine is? He didn't even have TIME to tell them, had he wanted to! And why is Quasimodo so invested in a person that talked to him for a minute and then ran off in disgust once she saw his face?

The whole movie is a really terrible case of what I like to call "leaning on the fourth wall", where instead of creating actual plot arcs and character motivations, the writers simply assume that the characters know everything the audience knows, even when that's clearly impossible. It's dumb, it's LAZY, and it means that if you pull at a single plot thread, the whole movie unravels.

Madellaine and Quasimodo's romance is rushed and nonsensical as a result. Here is the timeline:
Day 1 - Go looking for Quasimodo; run away in disgust when he's not super pretty.
Day 2 - Quasimodo stalks her to the circus. She comes to visit him again, and they go on this ludicrously long date through Paris where they run around on rooftoops and crap. He presents her with a carved figurine of herself, saying, "This is so you can see yourself the way I see you." YOU HAVE MET HER ONCE.
Day 3 - Madellaine goes on another date with Quasimodo in order to keep him out of the belltower while Sarousche steals the bell (the bell is like 20 feet tall and weighs a zillion tons btw but whatevs).

There's also this scene where they emo in stereo, which is admittedly
pretty funny.
Day 4 - Sarousche squeals on her. Quasimodo realizes he's been duped; Madellaine goes to jail. When Sarousche nabs Phoebus's kid as part of his exit strategy, Madellaine begs to help, saying she understands Sarousche's tricks, so she can help. She does, and everything okay because shut up it is.

Even the little details of this movie don't make sense. Madellaine tells them that all of Sarousche's magic is fake, like how when he made the elephant disappear, there was a tunnel under the stage the whole time. They've been in Paris for 4 days.

They dig fast.
The screenwriters make a few small attempts to catch your interest - for example, Madellaine's problem is supposed to be that she has no self-esteem, which is admittedly different from most of the Disney heroines. But on the whole, in spite of the overall low quality of the sequels, this is the first sequel where I've felt that well and truly, nobody gave one single solitary damn.

Except me, I guess.


  1. Well, this is disappointing. I was expecting such good things...

    I love the original Hunchback soundtrack. It's made of awesome. :) I was listening to it just last week. I skip the gargoyle songs, but I listen to everything else. If the gargoyles had been properly frightening and this had been a real musical movie made for adults, it would have been GREAT. As is, I thought it was way inappropriate for children. I was like, 12 or 13. It was shocking. I hate that movie by the way.

  2. I loved the first movie and soundtrack. I felt that the sequel was unnecessary. They probably made it because they felt bad that the ugly girl did not get the girl.

  3. I loved the first movie and soundtrack. I felt that the sequel was unnecessary. They probably made it because they felt bad that the ugly guy did not get the girl.