A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a 1996 Disney animated feature based on the Victor Hugo novel. There is regular cartoon violence and pratfalls: Characters fight with swords and knives, and one character is injured after getting hit in the shoulder by an arrow. There is some demonic imagery: orange-flamed backgrounds and fire-eyed panther statues. Frollo is a threatening bad guy who fights with swords and ogles over the suggestively dressed Gypsy Esmeralda; he sings a song of desire about her and asks for her destruction -- or possession. There are some moments of humor that may be inappropriate: The gargoyles, who provide comic relief, make reference to "cut[ting] the cheese" while making flatulent noises with their armpits, and a goat belches after eating. Natural deformities are addressed because the main character has a hunchback. Also, since this story does take place in Notre Dame Cathedral, religious symbols, icons, and religious themes abound. Esmeralda fights for justice for her people. She stands up to tyranny and defends outcasts such as Quasimodo and her family of Gypsies. Quasimodo shows kindness and loyalty and is willing to do what it takes to help his friends.
What's the story?
When Judge Frollo (Tony Jay) discovers a group of Gypsy castaways, he attempts to imprison them and is left holding a baby in the shadow of Notre Dame Cathedral. Noticing that the child is deformed, he starts to throw him down a well but is stopped by a priest and told to care for the child instead. So the child Quasimodo (Tom Hulce) is brought into a place of sanctuary and confinement, becoming the bell ringer of the great cathedral. As he grows, he longs to be in the world for one day, and he gets his wish suddenly, only to learn how cruel the world can be. Lucky for Quasimodo that he meets the Gypsy Esmeralda (Demi Moore), who befriends him and saves him from utter shame. Their paths become entwined, and their stories of surviving as outcasts serve as a touching theme.
Is it any good?
Disney's recreation of Victor Hugo's novel is rich in visual and musical sensation. But deeper beneath the rich production lie questions about normalcy, how sanctuary confines us as well as protects us, and what punishment is.
Some younger children might be frightened by Frollo's intensity. With his crusade against the Gypsies and simultaneous lecherous pursuit of Esmeralda, he is a formidable and contemptible villain. But Tom Hulce's performance is so lovely that it makes the darker aspects of this tale incredibly human. Along for comic relief, Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame leads a trio of gargoyles, whose quick banter is fun but can be a little grotesque.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what it means to be different from the norm. Who were the Gypsies?
What is the overall attitude towards "outcasts" in this movie, and how does Esmeralda stand up to these beliefs?
In what ways does Esmeralda show courage in her words and actions?
What does "sanctuary" mean? Why do people seek sanctuary?
What other versions of this story do you know? Which one do you like best?
- In theaters: June 21, 1996
- On DVD or streaming: March 19, 2002
- Cast: Demi Moore, Kevin Kline, Tom Hulce
- Directors: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
- Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Book Characters, Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs, Music and Sing-Along
- Run time: 91 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.