It appears Disney's animators set out to combine the grotesque and the lovable, something of a cross between Lon Chaney and Goofy. Key scenes from the Hunchback will be shown for the first time at the Cardiff Animation Festival next week before its general release in Britain in July.
The animation is said to be superb, the subject matter doubtful. "There were concerns," animator James Baxter says guardedly. "We were taking on a piece of classic literature." For all its soft edges, Hunchback is billed as one of Disney's darkest films to date. The villain Frollo keeps his obsession with Esmeralda, armed with the voluptuous voice of Demi Moore. "The way the story goes is a bit more sympathetic," says Baxter. "He's not so much of a monster, I was trying to get more of a child-like quality - he's not deaf, which he is in the book - he's more communicative than in previous incarnations. He's still kind of grotesque, but he's a bit more aware of his own deformity."
In Hugo's version, Esmeralda is burnt at the stake, and the Hunchback's bones are found in her coffin. Disney's take? "It's a lovely ending," gushed a Disney publicist. "A happy ending. We have children watching."
If The Hunchback of Notre Dame is to match its illustrious Disney predecessors it will have to rake in millions, as the list of the top 10 animated films at the US box office in the past five years, all of them Disney productions, shows:
The Lion King (1994) $312,855,561
Aladdin (1992) $217,350,219
Toy Story (1995) $184,873,720
Beauty and the Beast (1991) $145,863,363
Pocahontas (1995) $141,579,773
101 Dalmatians (1991 reissue) $60,830,285
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) $50,003,043
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1993 reissue) $41,634,471
A Goofy Movie (1995) $35,348,597
James and the Giant Peach (1996, still on release) $24,676,168
Source: Screen International