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Kevin Krock, editor
DVD Review
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
(1996) | Approx. 91 Minutes | Rated G | Reviewed by Kevin Krock
Cover Art
Click to Buy
Ratings Summary
(Scored out of a maximum of five)
Audio Video
Goodies Interface
Value
ADVANCED HOME THEATER - Not for big screens...

The Movie

I think most people are familiar with Disney’s adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel, so I will not spend too much time rehashing it. The adventures of Quasimodo, Esmeralda, Phoebus, Frollo, and the gargoyles are artfully animated and supported by a classic story line, great songs, and a good voice cast. Just keep in mind, this is not a rollicking, happy-go-lucky romp through Paris, and some of the story elements get particularly dark.

While this is not a problem for older children—after all, that is what “plot” is all about—Disney seems to have somehow shoehorned this seemingly PG movie into a G rating. However, I do not want to misrepresent other parts of the movie that are more lighthearted. The movie has been injected with enough humor and heart to keep it moving along without getting overly dark or serious. It is a well-produced and enjoyable movie, but it simply may go places that your toddlers are not quite ready to handle.

Promotional image © Disney
Promotional image © Disney

The Goodies

I had high hopes that Disney would transfer all of the neat stuff to DVD that appeared in the comprehensive laser disc special edition released several years ago. Based on my memory, it appears that only a couple of things made it to this DVD release. The first significant bonus item is a nice 27-minute “Making of The Hunchback of Notre Dame” documentary, but Jason Alexander, the voice of Hugo the gargoyle, goes a bit over-the-top in the narration that gets a bit old rather quickly. The second item is an entertaining and informative commentary by producer Don Hahn and directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale. If you have listened to the commentary on the Atlantis collector’s edition DVD, you have an idea of what to expect.

Unfortunately, that is about it for behind-the-scenes material. Disney has also included a sing-along, a multi-language reel and a set-top game, all of which are very similar to their counterparts on other DVDs. I am certain that Disney will eventually release some sort of anniversary edition (2006 is the movie’s 10th anniversary) or special edition with additional still galleries, storyboards, and so on, but for now this is it.

The Video, Audio and Interface

The movie is presented in digitally remastered anamorphic widescreen, and it looks quite good. The colors are bright and solid throughout, and the dark scenes have nice depth. The cleanliness of the print eliminates annoying distractions and allows your eye to appreciate the wonderfully detailed animation. Comparing it to my old VHS copy, the DVD looks much better, hands down.

The audio is also hard to beat. This disc sports a very nice Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack that plays well on any system, and Disney has also included Spanish and French language tracks in addition to an English DTS 5.1 surround soundtrack. In addition to the various soundtracks, there is the aforementioned entertaining commentary that runs the length of the movie. Together, these definitely add to the value of this disc over its VHS counterpart.

The interface is simple but well-themed. The main menu and bonus material menu are animated, and music from the movie accompanies all of the screens. The menu hierarchy is clearly designed, and everyone in the family should be able to find their way around the disc.

The Advanced Home Theater

This release has convinced me that the technicians and executives at Disney home video only have two TV sets to check their DVD transfers on.

One set must be utterly magnificent - as it is probably a Pioneer Elite top-of-the-line rear projection model with a sixty-five inch 16x9 widescreen. On this piano black finished pinnacle of video engineering (most likely tweaked hourly by THX) they check all the transfers of their newer movies, such as Atlantis and Emperor's New Groove - and they also make sure all the Pixar titles look just as dandy on it.

The other set, which they use to check the lesser DVD titles, such as Dumbo, The Rescuers Down Under and now The Hunchback of Notre Dame I am now totally convinced is a three-inch LCD pocket color TV from Radio Shack. With weak batteries, a broken hand strap (so it gets dropped a lot), no back light and lacking a sun hood.

Promotional image © Disney
Promotional image © Disney

Why am I so utterly convinced?  Because there is simply no other way to explain why some releases (such as the former) look so much better, especially when it comes to the picture grain, than the latter. For heaven's sake, even that antique old biddy Snow White blows this disc out of the water when it comes to picture quality.

The sound on Hunchback is fine. The special features pale to what was originally issued on the deluxe laser disc edition of the film, so you still need to hang on to your copy if you have one. But the DVD picture itself, in particular on a larger state-of-the-art high definition capable screen, looks grainy, soft and dirty. (Let's not forget the occasional hair caught in the film gate either.) On my 50 inch widescreen set the grain is so bad it is distracting. If your screen is larger, be ready to confuse this disc for Twister.

Let's hope that this transfer problem is rectified in a future release -  as it will take that for me to finally own this title on DVD. (My actual guess here is that they didn't want to spend any money on it.)

Supposedly this is Eisner's favorite animated movie. You'd never know it by the way it looks on this disc.

- Al Lutz

The Final Evaluation

Hunchback is a well-produced, animated, and scored movie, but it is a bit darker than many typical Disney releases and may not sit well with very young children. Otherwise, this movie has been on many people’s DVD wish list for a long time. What Disney produced this time around is not the definitive DVD release of Hunchback, but if you are a fan of this movie and have a well-worn VHS copy, this disc is definitely worth the upgrade.

For DVD collectors, though, this disc is a bit disappointing. It should however, tide over most folks until Disney can put together a special edition sometime in the future.

Promotional image © Disney
Promotional image © Disney

DVD FEATURES

Goodies

  • Commentary by producer Don Hahn and directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale
  • “The Making of ’The Hunchback of Notre Dame’”
  • Topsy Turvy Underground game
  • Multi-language reel - “A Guy Like You”
  • Sing-Along song - “Topsy Turvy”

Technical Specifications

anamorphicdvd.gif (2563 bytes)

  • Region 1 Encoded
  • Single-sided, dual-layer
  • English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • English (DTS 5.1)
  • Spanish and French language tracks
  • English subtitles
  • Widescreen anamorphic - 1.85:1
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