The Hunchback of Notre Dame is my all-time favorite Disney animated film. That’s not to say it is the best; from a purely critical standpoint, there are a few problems to be found. However, for me, Hunchback represents all of what Disney does best and then raises the bar even further. It features a cast of memorable characters, beautiful music, and breathtaking animation. Even though Disney animation was at its peak in the 1990s, this film continued to challenge what an animated movie was expected to be and pushed boundaries even further. Due to its dark tone and serious subject matter, Hunchback is a film that is often overlooked among other crowdpleasers such as The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. And that is fine. What is much less than fine though, is The Hunchback of Notre Dame II.
Following the financial success of other straight-to-video Disney sequels, it was decided that The Hunchback of Notre Dame II was a necessary addition to this quickly growing list, despite being less successful than other Disney films of the era. Though this film was released on video in March of 2002, it was finished in 2000, according to the copyright date at the end of the movie. The plan was to release it in 2001, but it was delayed and ended up coinciding with the release of the first film on DVD for the first time. Interestingly, the delay seems to be attributed to Jennifer Love Hewitt. A popular actress and singer in the late 90s and early 2000s, Hewitt was brought on board to voice Quasimodo’s new love interest Madellaine. After the film was completed, she complained that she had no song to sing in the movie and so the production team obliged her request and allowed her to sing a ballad she herself wrote over the credits. This addition was the reason for the film’s delay. It seems that she couldn’t save the movie, however, because upon its release the critics unanimously agreed: this is a horrid movie.
Unfortunately, the critics were right, and I don’t say that because I am partial to the first film. This is indeed a disaster all on its own. First of all, the animation is extremely ugly; some of the worst to be seen in these sequels. From badly colored backgrounds to animation lines disappearing and more, every frame screams cheap. Notre Dame and the bells even look bad, impossible as it seems.
The other massive disappointment is the music. One of the great accomplishments of the first film was its hauntingly beautiful score. Not one of the songs here is memorable, which, though not surprising, continues to be a disappointing trend. Hewitt’s song is the only one with potential and, like I said before, it is played over the credits! Apart from the music itself, Tom Hulce, the voice of Quasimodo here and in the first film, sounds much worse than he did there. Hulce is not a trained singer and it is a shame that the production team clearly didn’t set him up for success but merely left him hanging out to dry.
The story itself is bland and predictable, featuring the original characters with their original voice actors back, along with the new characters of Madellaine, Sarousch (an exceedingly boring villain), and Zephyr, voiced by child star Haley Joel Osment. Everyone’s (least) favorite gargoyles are back as well, which most people hated in the original and I can guarantee that you will like them even less here. The less said about Hugo’s attraction to Djali the goat, the better.
Unless, like me, you are interested in watching every Disney sequel, do not waste your time with this. Spend an hour of your time doing something else.
Next week, we will be watching 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure.