Sunday 7 April 2013

The Hunchback of Notre Dame Blu-ray Review - Pretty Nice Looking For a Hunchback


The Hunchback of Notre Dame is available to own on Disney Blu-ray™ from 15th April 2013

Alongside Aladdin (the hi-def release of which, there still isn't a firm US release date for), three really rather good animated Disney films are coming to UK Blu-ray players on 15th April: Mulan, Brother Bear and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (and, yes, I did just call Brother Bear rather good). The latter three releases are already out Stateside, but Disney were kind enough to send me out advance review copies of the UK releases of the films, - check out our Aladdin Blu-ray review here - second on the agenda: Hunchback.

The main menu of the Hunchback of Notre Dame Blu-ray.

Now, much unlike Aladdin, Hunchback is a Disney film I hadn't seen in quite a long time - over a decade, actually. So I remembered very little of the film: very little of its style and tone, and less still of its plot, as such it felt rather like I was checking the film out for the first time. Obviously, given that this is a film plucked from the Disney Renaissance, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a really good film, so it took rather a lot of fortitude and effort to try and focus, not on the narrative or the music, but on the picture and sound quality.

Because the film is very good; it's from the last (and arguably weakest) third of the Renaissance - and it's certainly no Lion King or Aladdin - but it is still a well-crafted, warm-hearted and very interesting film. Interesting because, rather unlike its contemporaries (like Pocahontas and Hercules, which tend towards the goofy and cliché) Hunchback is quite a dark film - particularly in its final act. Dark both visually and thematically: there's fire, there's songs about hell, there's threats of hanging and mutilation. Much of this darkness stems from the villain of the piece, Judge Claude Frollo, one of Disney's most menacing and ill-meaning villains. He sounds uncannily like Peter O'Toole and dresses somewhat like an elderly transvestite, but he carries a scaring swagger with him nonetheless and does seem really rather creepy in crisp HD.

The film's story is well-meaning, if not always consistent. The underlying desire for acceptance and compassion is a noble one, although it does feel a bit harshly juxtaposed against the light-hearted antics of the gargoyles and the predictable plot twists. But it's an enjoyable film and worth checking out if you haven't (or like me, hadn't in a while), if only to marvel at the world's fastest burning house and Quasimodo's impressive free running skills and immaculate knack for being friend-zoned.

Okay, so speaking of the visuals: - given this is a Blu-ray review - they're very impressive. Much like the Aladdin transfer, the film looks like it came out last year, not in 1996 (particularly when compared to how it looked on DVD); colours are deep and distinct, with some very black blacks really popping against fiery, bright red and orange flames. The Festival of Fools scene is a particular treat, with the frantic frenzy of people, in their many bright-coloured garbs, looking rather impressive. It's warm, it's bright, it's beautiful and it looks better than it ever has done before in 1080p-goodness. I also observed for the first time how much the film strikes me as very Don Bluth-inflected (certainly due to the competition the ex-Disney alum was so prominently providing at the time).

There are a few little issues with the transfer though - whereas the Aladdin one was pretty immaculate - in that there are a few instances of artifacting (that is to say, jagged lines and rough edges where the quality-upscaling has led to a bit of a rough picture), although this happens rarely and isn't eminently noticeable.

As I said, I hadn't seen this film in a while, but one aspect I've always remembered quite clearly and quite fondly is the film's music. The songs are more operatic and more powerful than the ever-more pop-ish songs prevalent in Disney films at the time (and indeed several aspects of the film draw comparisons with The Phantom of the Opera). The film's opening salvo "The Bells of Notre Dame" particularly bellows, enrapturing the audience from the very start. Esmeralda's more mournful soliloquy, "God Help the Outcasts", also echoes nicely, capturing the mood of the scene (in strong accord with the very impressive visuals) perfectly. "Hellfire" is also, unsurprisingly, visually and audibly, an undisputed high-point for the film. Alan Menken's lilting score is on top-form through the set's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix.

After being quite disappointed by the lack of bonus features on the Aladdin Blu-ray, I wasn't expecting much from Hunchback's auxiliary items. Yet it still pulled off the impressive task of underwhelming. Hammering home the lack of anything new, the bonus features button on the menu literally says "Classic DVD Bonus Features". And there are only two of them. The longest of which is about 25 minutes long. Fortunately that's a pretty good bonus feature, compéred by voice actor Jason Alexander (Hugo the gargoyle). But that's not quite enough to prevent this dire dearth of extras from putting a sour taste in your mouth.

US '2 Movie Collection' combo pack cover art.

It's still an enjoyable set, if only to witness the actual feature and the, again, impressive sound and picture quality. But Disney, really, some more love would be dearly appreciated.

(Blu-ray stills via

Movie: 8/10
Picture Quality: 8.5/10
Sound Quality:  9/10
Bonus Features: 3/10

Overall Blu-ray package: 7/10

You can pre-order The Hunchback of Notre Dame on Blu-ray via our Amazon Link above (UK, left/US, right).


  1. Munir Abedrabbo7 April 2013 at 20:26

    I love Hunchback very much (as I love all Renaissance films) and the BD is amazing. The DVD's transfer was completely awful so seeing it in HD was a visual revelation. As you say, there are some problems shifting from serious themes to humor scenes but overall is a very good picture with a nice message and a heartfelt story. I was also very disappointed of the lack of bonus features but at least the transfer and sound are top-notch.

    An interesting point in your review says that this film strikes you as a Don Bluth production. Really? I haven't heard that analogy before and I'm not a fan of Bluth's work but I think that by 1996 he was not longer a competition to Disney. He was in the 1980's but after Mermaid's success and subsequent Disney films, he was not longer relevant (actually, 1997's Anastasia is a cardboard copy of the Disney formula). Your point is very interesting but I never found Bluth's films too appealing to me and they strike me as childish, something Hunchback is not.

  2. This, Aladdin, Mulan and Nemo are all released on BluRay in two weeks in France. I think I'm about to go on a shopping spree.

  3. Munir Abedrabbo7 April 2013 at 21:19

    Well, is being released in the US on Oct. 1st so I guess France will get it around that date.