Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

I'm reading Victor Hugo's classic right now, and though I'm a little less than halfway through it, my first question is: What idiot at Disney thought this would make a great animated children's movie? Because it wasn't, and anyone who couldn't see that coming from about 18 miles away is dumb.

I was 12 when the film was released back in 1996 and saw it with my mom. I remember thinking then that it should have been rated PG, but it was undeservedly given a G rating. I thought two scenes in specific were horrible for young children to watch. The first is a scene in which Claude Frollo is "praying" to Our Lady and all these demons and flames and smoke swirls up. That's scary. The second is when Quasimodo is elected the Pope of Fools and the Parisians shout insults at him and throw tomatoes and other food at him. That made me want to cry. But you know what? That scene isn't even in the book. He does get laughed at because of his hideousness, but he's deaf in the book and doesn't know what they're saying. And the crowd definitely DOES NOT throw stuff at him. If anything, he enjoys his election because for once in his life people are rallying around him.

Another problem with the Disney version is that they give him hearing. In the book he's become deaf from all the years of ringing Notre Dame's bells (whose sound is the only one that he can now hear). His deafness is very important in the book, as it serves to complete his isolation from the rest of society. Though he can talk, his speech even before his deafness was severely deficient and now he rarely uses it. His adopted father, Claude Frollo, and he have developed their own form of sign language which no one else understands and which cements Dom Claude's power over Quasimodo - that's important to the plot.

Of course, Disney couldn't possibly have a deaf main character in one of their animated movies, so they gave Quasimodo hearing. But if you have to change major plot devices in order to make a story more suited for children, shouldn't that be an indication that the whole project probably isn't a good idea?

Disney has been saved in the past decade thanks to the bright folks over at Pixar, who know how to make state-of-the art, thoughtful, funny and brilliantly written children's films. Too bad for Disney that they'll be losing their business soon.