The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a 1996 American animated musical comedy-drama film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and released to theaters on June 21, 1996 by Walt Disney Pictures. The thirty-fourth animated feature in the Disney Animated Canon, the film is loosely based on Victor Hugo's novel of the same name, but changed most of its substance to make it more family-friendly. The plot centers on Esmeralda, the Gypsy dancer, Claude Frollo, a powerful and ruthless Minister of Justice who lusts after her and plans to commit genocide by killing all of the gypsies that live in Paris, Quasimodo, the protagonist, Notre Dame's kindhearted and deformed bell-ringer, who adores her (and struggles to gain acceptance into society as well as save the Gypsies who live in Paris from Frollo who plans to kill them all), and Phoebus, the chivalrous but irreverent military captain, who holds affections for her.
The film was directed by Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, directors of Beauty and the Beast, and produced by Don Hahn, producer of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. The animation screenplay was written by Irene Mecchi and Jonathan Roberts, who had previously worked on The Lion King, and Tab Murphy, Bob Tzudiker, and Noni White, who would go on to write the screenplay for Tarzan. for The songs for the musical film were composed by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz and the film featured the voices of Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Kevin Kline, Paul Kandel, Jason Alexander, Charles Kimbrough, David Ogden Stiers, Tony Jay, and Mary Wickes (in her final film role). It belongs to the era known as the Disney Renaissance.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame premiered on June 19, 1996 at the New Orleans Superdome and was released worldwide on June 21, 1996. It received positive reviews from critics and was a box office success, earning over $325 million worldwide.
A direct-to-video sequel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, was released in 2002. A darker, Gothic stage adaption of the film was re-written and directed by James Lapine and produced by Walt Disney Theatrical in Berlin, Germany as Der Glöckner von Notre Dame that ran from 1999 to 2002.
The movie opens in 16th Century Paris with Clopin, a Gypsy puppeteer, telling a group of children the story of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. The story begins in 1482 as three gypsies sneak illegally into Paris but are ambushed by a squadron of soldier-like thugs working for Judge Claude Frollo, the Minister of Justice and de facto ruler of Paris. A gypsy woman attempts to flee with her baby, but Frollo, thinking the woman is carrying stolen goods, catches and kills her just outside Notre Dame, intending to kill her deformed baby (Frollo says to the Archdeacon that the baby is "an unholy demon" and that he is "sending it back to hell where it belongs"), but the Archdeacon appears and accuses him of murdering an innocent woman. Frollo denies that he is in the wrong saying his conscience is clear, but the Archdeacon declares he can lie to himself all he wants, but he cannot hide his crime from heaven ('the eyes of Notre Dame', the statues of the saints outside the cathedral). Fearing for his soul and to atone for his sin, Frollo reluctantly agrees to raise the deformed child in the Cathedral's bell tower as his son, naming him Quasimodo. He notes that someday the child may have use for him.
Twenty years later in 1502, Quasimodo has developed into a kind yet isolated young man with three gargoyles as his only company, constantly told by Frollo that he is a monster who would be rejected by the uncaring outside world. Despite these warnings, Quasimodo sneaks out of the Cathedral to attend the Feast of Fools, where he is crowned King of Fools but immediately humiliated by the crowd when Frollo's thugs start a riot. Frollo, in the audience, refuses to help Quasimodo, and the crowd only stops when a kind and beautiful gypsy Esmeralda frees Quasimodo from his restraints and openly defies Frollo. She then throws the crown at Frollo, deeming him to be the biggest fool. The judge immediately orders her arrested, but she escapes by means of illusions, which Frollo refers to as "witchcraft." Frollo confronts Quasimodo and sends him back inside the Cathedral.
Esmeralda follows Quasimodo to find him, but she herself is followed by Phoebus, Frollo's Captain of the Guard. Phoebus, who himself does not approve of Frollo's methods, refuses to arrest her inside the Cathedral, saying that she has claimed 'Sanctuary' and thus cannot be arrested as long as she remains in Notre Dame. Frollo finally leaves when the Archdeacon intervenes, but not before warning Esmeralda that his men will capture her the moment she attempts to escape the Cathedral. Esmeralda finds Quasimodo in the bell tower and befriends him. As gratitude for helping him in the crowd, Quasimodo helps Esmeralda escape Notre Dame. In return, she leaves him with a map to the gypsy hideout, the Court of Miracles, should he ever choose to leave Notre Dame again. Frollo himself begins to realize his lustful feelings for Esmeralda and wishes to be free of them to escape eternal damnation. He soon learns of Esmeralda's escape and instigates a city-wide manhunt for her, which involves burning down countless houses in his path.
Realizing that Frollo has lost his mind, Phoebus defies the judge by saving an innocent family, as Frollo orders him executed for treason but is assisted in escape by Esmeralda. After being hit by an arrow, Phoebus falls into the Seine River and is left for dead by Frollo, but he is rescued by Esmeralda, who takes him to Quasimodo for refuge.
Frollo soon returns to the cathedral, forcing Quasimodo to hide Phoebus. Discovering that Quasimodo helped Esmeralda escape, the judge bluffs that he knows where the Court of Miracles is and intends to attack it at dawn with a battalion. After he leaves, Phoebus requests Quasimodo's help in finding the Court before Frollo. Though reluctant, he agrees to join. Using the map Esmeralda left, they find it and are almost hung by Clopin for being spies, but they are saved when Esmeralda intervenes and clears up the misunderstanding. Phoebus tries to get the court to retreat as Frollo plans to invade; however, Frollo's army appears and captures them all, with the judge revealing that he followed Phoebus and Quasimodo.
Frollo then orders Esmeralda burned at the stake after she refuses his proposal of her becoming his mistress. Frollo gets a torch and burns the wheat Esmeralda is standing on, and she starts coughing, and then she goes unconscious. Quasimodo, chained up in the bell tower, initially refuses to help under depression, but when he sees Esmeralda in pain, he gives in to his anger and rescues her, bringing her to the cathedral and yelling "Sanctuary." As Frollo grabs a sword and orders his men to attack the cathedral, Phoebus ignites a rebellion among the people of Paris who have had enough of Frollo's tyranny, and a battle ensues in the street between the citizenry and Frollo's thug army. Quasimodo places Esmeralda's unconscious body on a bed and pours a cauldron of molten copper onto the streets to ensure nobody gets inside. Frollo, however, manages to break in and force his way past the Archdeacon. Quasimodo, believing Esmeralda to be dead, breaks down in tears beside her body as Frollo comes into the room to kill him with a dagger. Quasimodo, in his fury, disarms his former guardian and tearfully tells Frollo that people like him are the only reason the world is so "dark and cruel". Esmeralda wakes up alive, and Quasimodo grabs her and flees. The deranged judge chases them onto the balcony, where he attacks Quasimodo and Esmeralda with his sword. The battle ends with Frollo maniacally quoting the Bible, and him and Quasimodo both falling from the balcony. After Frollo falls to his death, Quasimodo also falls but is caught by Phoebus on a lower floor, and the three friends reunite.
As the citizens celebrate their victory over Frollo, Quasimodo reluctantly emerges from the Cathedral to face the populace again, only this time, he is hailed as a hero and is finally accepted into society.
A brief post-credits scene sees Hugo enthusiastically wishing everyone a good night.
Cast and characters
- Quasimodo (voiced by Tom Hulce) – The protagonist of the film. He is courageous, kindly, and enthusiastic. He is the bell-ringer of the Notre Dame Cathedral. He is physically deformed with a hunched back and is constantly told by his guardian Judge Claude Frollo that he is an ugly monster who will never be accepted by the world outside. However, the opening song asks listeners to judge for themselves "who is the monster, and who is the man" of the two.
- Esmeralda (voiced by Demi Moore, singing voice by Heidi Mollenhauer) – The deuteragonist of the film. A beautiful, streetwise and talented gypsy girl who befriends Quasimodo and shows him that his soul is truly beautiful, even if his exterior isn't. She is incredibly independent and greatly dislikes the horrible ways in which gypsies are treated. Throughout the movie, Esmeralda attempts to seek justice for her people. She falls in love with Captain Phoebus and helps Quasimodo understand that gypsies are good people. 'Esmeralda' is the Spanish and Portuguese word for 'Emerald', which may be why the animators chose to give her emerald green eyes.
- Claude Frollo (voiced by Tony Jay) – The main antagonist of the film. A ruthless and powerful judge who is Quasimodo's reluctant guardian. He also lusts after Esmeralda for which he feels shame but is willing to kill her if she rejects him. Frollo generally does not see any evil in his deeds as he does them in honor of God, even though the Archdeacon often disapproves of his actions, which would make him more of an anti-villain than a full on villain like Jafar or Maleficent. However, at one point during the song "Hellfire", the priests singing the Confiteor manifest as his conscience, chanting the Latin words "mea culpa" ("my fault"), to reveal that Frollo ultimately knows the truth of his actions.
- Captain Phoebus (voiced by Kevin Kline) – A soldier who is Frollo's Captain of the Guard and the tritagonist of the film. He falls in love with (and later marries) Esmeralda. He is a heroic idealist with integrity and does not approve of what Frollo thinks or does. This distinguishes him severely from his character in the original story.
- Clopin (voiced by Paul Kandel) – The mischievous leader of the gypsies who will defend his people at all costs. He introduces the audience to the story, explaining how Quasimodo, the bell ringer from Notre Dame, got to be there.
- Victor, Hugo, and Laverne (voiced by Jason Alexander, Charles Kimbrough, and Mary Wickes, respectively) – Three gargoyle statues who become Quasimodo's close friends and guardians. In the DVD audio commentary for Hunchback, Wise, Trousdale, and Hahn note that the gargoyles might exist only in Quasimodo's imagination and thus may well be split-off pieces of his own identity.
- The Archdeacon (voiced by David Ogden Stiers) – A kind man who helps many characters throughout the course of the movie, including Esmeralda. He is the opposite of Frollo: kind, accepting, gentle, and wise. He is the only figure in the film with authority over Frollo while he is inside Notre Dame. He appears at the beginning of the movie when he orders Frollo to adopt Quasimodo for killing his mother. He disapproves of most of Frollo's actions, and at the film's climax, Frollo, in his rage, openly defies him and knocks him down a flight of stairs.
- Djali (voiced by Frank Welker) is a supporting character Belligerent and helpful, Djali is extremely loyal to his owner, Esmeralda. He is also marked by a tendency to be sassy and feisty, especially toward Esmeralda's enemies. (For instance, he blows a raspberry at Frollo when Esmeralda calls Frollo a fool. Soon after, he headbutts Phoebus multiple times when he is ordered out of the cathedral he "confronted" the goat's owner in.) He appears to be faint-hearted.
- Mary Kay Bergman as Quasimodo's Mother
- Rodger Bumpass as Guard
- Corey Burton as The Miller
- Jennifer Darling as Woman
- Debi Derryberry as Mother, Boy in Crowd
- Bill Fagerbakke as Oafish Guard
- Mona Marshall as Woman
- Mickie McGowan as Peasant Woman, Vendor
- Denise Pickering as Little Girl
- Patrick Pinney as Guards, Quasimodo's Father
- Phil Proctor as Guards, Paris Citizens
- Jan Rabson as Various Citizens
- Peter Samuel as Chorus
- Kath Soucie as Woman
- Mary Stout as Laverne (singing)
- Jack Angel
- Joan Barber
- Scott Barnes
- Susan Blu
- Maureen Brennan
- Victoria Clark
- Philip Clarke
- Jonathan Dokuchitz
- Bill Farmer
- Laurie Faso
- Merwin Foard
- Dana Hill
- Judy Kaye
- Eddie Korbich
- Alix Korey
- Michael Lindsay
- Sherry Lynn
- Howard McGillin
- Anna McNeely
- Bruce Moore
- Gordon Stanley
- Marcelo Tubert
- Animation supervisors:
- Art director: David Goetz
- Story supervisor: Will Finn
- Layout supervisor: Ed Ghertner
- Background supervisor: Lisa Keene
- Clean-up animation supervisor: Vera Lanpher-Pacheco
- Effects animation supervisor: Christopher Jenkins
- Computer graphics supervisor: Kiran Bhakta Joshi
- Production manager: Patricia Hicks
Differences from the original story
Since the original Victor Hugo novel is filled to the brim with heaps of dark and morbid subject material that would be considered inappropriate for family viewers, Disney took considerable liberties with the original source material and therefore altered the story. Here are some main differences:
- In the book, Quasimodo was deaf, and had unintelligible speech; in the film, he was not deaf, and quite capable of fluent speech.
- In the book, Frollo willingly adopts Quasimodo; in the film, Frollo is made Quasimodo's guardian by the Archdeacon as atonement for murdering Quasimodo's mother.
- In the book Quasimodo's mother is cruel and neglectful, having abandoned him on the steps of Notre Dame. In the film, she is kind and caring towards the deformed Quasimodo, as she loves him in spite of his deformity, even sacrificing herself to save Quasimodo from the cruelty of the French government led by Frollo.
- In the book, Quasimodo is around four years old when Frollo takes him in; in the film, he is an infant.
- In the film, Esmeralda was confirmed a gypsy. In the book, she was not born a gypsy and was born to a recluse.
- In the film, Esmeralda saves Quasimodo and Phoebus from being hanged in the Court of Miracles. In the book, she saves a man named Pierre Gringoire.
- In the book, Phoebus was an untrustworthy womanizer. He was much kinder and friendlier to Quasimodo and Esmeralda in the film.
- In the book, Esmeralda was 16 years old. In the film she appears to be much older, perhaps in her late-20s or early-30s.
- In the book, Frollo successfully killed Esmeralda. In the film, Quasimodo rescues her from being burned at the stake.
- In the novel, Quasimodo committed suicide after Esmeralda and Frollo died. He found Esmeralda's dead body and clutched it until he starved to death.
- In the film, Frollo was a judge, was archenemies with the archdeacon, was racist, and named Quasimodo after his disfigurement. In the book, Frollo was the archdeacon had more sympathy and compassion and named Quasimodo after Quasimodo Sunday.
- In the book, Esmeralda was sentenced to be hanged. In the film, she was nearly burned at the stake.
- The talking gargoyles do not appear in the book.
- Gringoire, Fleur-de-Lys, Paquette, and Jehan Frollo do not appear in the movie.
- In the book, Frollo was thrown off the cathedral by Quasimodo after Esmeralda's death. In the film, the gargoyle on which he was standing broke, and he fell into the pit of molten lead (that Quasi and the gargoyles poured earlier) while trying to murder both Quasimodo and Esmeralda.
- In the book, Phoebus tried to seduce Esmeralda, was stabbed by Frollo (who framed Esmeralda for it), but survived, and instead of claiming Esmeralda's innocence, he married a woman named Fleur-de-Lys, though their marriage ended up being an unhappy one. In the film, he truly loved Esmeralda, and later happily marries her in the sequel, having a son (Zephyr) with her.
- In the book, Esmeralda does not like Quasimodo instantly.
- In the book, Frollo tried to rape Esmeralda when she hides in the bell tower, but Quasimodo picks Frollo, and slammed him against the wall. While in the movie this isn't stated outright (being a family film), there are several noticeable hints that Frollo lusts for Esmeralda and that the only thing that keeps him from acting on that lust is his nature as a religious fundamentalist.
- In the book, Quasimodo gave Esmeralda a high pitched whistle, one of the few things that Quasimodo can hear; this does not appear in the film.
- In the book, Clopin leads his Gypsies in an attack below Notre Dame, using a scythe to fight and singing gleefully, until he is shot and killed with an arquebus (an early gun); in the film, Clopin is mostly absent from the final battle, only seen leaping out of his cage with Djali and the other Gypsies when the townspeople free them; he survives the battle and provides the closing narration/reprise.
- In the book, during Esmeralda’s execution, the people of Paris vehemently condemn her as a witch. However, in the film, the people have an exact opposite reaction. Instead, they protest against Esmeralda’s burning by proclaiming and maintaining her innocence. Some have even been seen struggling against Frollo’s soldiers.
The idea to adapt The Hunchback of Notre Dame came from development executive David Stainton in 1993, who was inspired to turn Victor Hugo's novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame into an animated feature film after reading the Classics Illustrated comic book adaptation. Stainton then proposed the idea to then-studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg. Following Beauty and the Beast, Gary Trousdale had taken the opportunity to take a break from directing, instead spending several months developing storyboards for The Lion King. Following this, Trousdale and Kirk Wise subsequently attempted developing an animated feature based on the Greek myth of Orpheus titled A Song of the Sea, adapting it to make the central character a humpback whale and setting it in the open ocean. The concept obstinately refused to pull together, but while they were working on the project they were summoned to meet with Katzenberg. "During that time," explained Trousdale, "while we working on it, we got a call from Jeffrey. He said, 'Guys, drop everything – you're working on Hunchback now.'" According to Wise, they believed that it had "a great deal of potential...great memorable characters, a really terrific setting, the potential for fantastic visuals, and a lot of emotion."
Production on The Hunchback of Notre Dame went underway in the summer of 1993. In October 1993, directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, art director David Goetz, Roy Conli, Ed Ghertner, Will Finn, Alan Menken, and Stephen Schwartz took a trip to Paris, France for ten days; three days were devoted to exploring Notre Dame including a private tour of rarely glimpsed sites as actual passageways, stairwells, towers, and hidden room within which Hugo set his actions. Also included were visits to the Palace of Justice and an original location of the Court of Miracles.
|"We knew it would be a challenge to stay true to the material while still giving it the requisite amount of fantasy and fun most people would expect from a Disney animated feature. We were not going to end it the way the book ended, with everybody dead."|
Writer Tab Murphy was brought on board to write the screenplay, and it was decided early on that Quasimodo would be the center of the story, as he was in past live-action film adaptations. A love story between Quasimodo and Esmeralda was originally conceived, according to Murphy, but "we decided to make Phoebus more heroic and central to the story. Out of that decision grew the idea of some sort of a triangle between Quasimodo, Esmeralda, and Phoebus." Some of the novel's key characters were jettisoned entirely while the gargoyles of Notre Dame were added to the story by Trousdale and Wise, and portrayed as comedic friends and confidantes of Quasimodo as suggested in the novel, which reads "The other statues, the ones of monsters and demons, felt no hatred for Quasimodo…The saints were his friends and blessed him the monsters were his friends and protected him. Thus he would pour out his heart at length to them."
One of the first changes made to accommodate Disney's request was to turn the villainous Claude Frollo into a judge rather than an archdeacon, thus avoiding religious sensibilities in the finished film. "As we were exploring the characters, especially Frollo, we certainly found a lot of historical parallels to the type of mania he had: the Confederate South, Nazi Germany, take your pick," explained Wise. "Those things influenced our thinking." Producer Don Hahn evaluated that one inspiration for Frollo was found in Ralph Fiennes's performance as Amon Goeth in Schindler's List, who murders Jews yet desires his Jewish maid. For the opening sequence, Disney story veteran Burny Mattinson constructed an effective sequence that covered much exposition, although studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg felt something was missing. Following Stephen Schwartz's suggestion to musicalize the sequence, French animators Paul and Gaëtan Brizzi storyboarded the sequence to Menken and Schwartz's music resulting in "The Bells of Notre Dame". Lyricist Stephen Schwartz also worked closely with the writing team even suggesting that the audience should be left wondering what the outcome of what Phoebus would do before he douses the torch in water in defiance of Frollo. Another was, unsurprisingly, the film's conclusion. While Frollo's death was retained – and, indeed, made even more horrific – both Quasimodo and Esmerelda were spared their fates and given a happy ending. This revised ending was based in part on Victor Hugo's own libretto to a Hunchback opera, in which he had allowed Captain Phoebus to save Esmerelda from her execution.
In late 1993, pop singer Cyndi Lauper was the first actor attached to the film during its initial stages. Thinking she was cast as Esmeralda, Lauper was startled to learn she was to voice a gargoyle named Quinn, and was hired one week after one reading with the directors. The development team would later come up with the names of Chaney, Laughton, and Quinn – named after the actors who portrayed Quasimodo in previous Hunchback film adaptations. However, Disney's legal department objected to the proposed names of the gargoyles, fearing that the estates of Lon Chaney, Charles Laughton, or Anthony Quinn (who was alive at the time) might file a lawsuit over the use of their names so the names was dropped. Trousdale and Wise then suggested naming the characters Lon, Charles, and Anthony – which resulted in the same legal concern – before instead naming the first two gargoyles after Victor Hugo, and the third as Laverne, which was selected by Kirk Wise as a tribute to Andrews Sisters singer Laverne Andrews. Nowcast as Laverne, Lauper was deemed too youthful for a friend who was to provide Quasimodo wise counsel while at the same time Sam McMurray – best known for his work on The Tracey Ullman Show – was hired for Hugo. Meanwhile, Charles Kimbrough was cast as Victor who at first was unimpressed at an animated adaptation of Hunchback, but later became rather impressed at the level of research that went into the film and how the story ideas transitioned from the novel to the screen. After several recording sessions and test screenings, Lauper and McMurray were called by the directors who regrettably released them from their roles. Jason Alexander, having voiced Abis Mal in The Return of Jafar, was cast as Hugo fulfilling a lifelong desire to be in a Disney film. Laverne was then revisioned into a wiser, mature character with Mary Wickes cast in the role. Following Wickes' death in October 1995, Jane Withers was hired to voice her six remaining lines.
Mandy Patinkin was approached for the title role, but his style of portraying Quasimodo collided with the producers' demands, and Patinkin stated "'I [was] just there at the audition [and I] said, 'I can't do this.'" Tom Hulce was cast as Quasimodo following his first audition for the role, and according to the actor, he noticed during the audition that the Disney executives, producers, and directors were "were staring at the floor. It looked like everyone was at a memorial service" until he noticed the floor was lined with storyboard sketches. According to Wise, the filmmakers "like to audition the voices with our eyes closed, so we see the character's face." Quasimodo was originally portrayed to be more monstrous, older, and with more of a speech impediment during the early rehearsals, but Hulce commented that "we experimented, endlessly. At one point I was ready to call in and say 'Things just aren't happening.'". Ultimately, the directors desired to portray Quasimodo with a younger voice different from the previous portrayals since "[Victor] Hugo described Quasimodo as 20". Additionally, Hulce was allowed to do his own singing after being asked to perform a demo recording of "Out There". Desiring a huskier voice different from the leading Disney heroines, Demi Moore was cast as Esmeralda, and met with Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz on singing. After several singing demos, the actress said "You'd better get someone else,'" according to Schwartz. New York City cabaret singer Heidi Mollenhauer was selected to provide the singing voice. For the role of Phoebus, co-director Kirk Wise explained that "As we're designing the characters, we form a short list of names...to help us find the personality of the character." Subsequently, the filmmakers modeled his portrayal on the personalities of Errol Flynn and John Wayne, and "One of the names on the top of the list all the time was Kevin Kline." British actor Tony Jay, who declared his role as Frollo as his "bid for immortality", was cast after the directors worked with him in Beauty and the Beast. After watching his portrayal as Uncle Ernie in the musical The Who's Tommy, Broadway actor Paul Kandel was selected to voice Clopin.
Alongside Pocahontas, storyboard work on The Hunchback of the Notre Dame was among the first to be produced for an animated film on the new Disney Feature Animation building adjacent to the main Disney lot in Burbank, which was dedicated in 1995. However, as the Feature Animation building was occupied with The Lion King and Pocahontas at the time, more animators were hired from Canada and United Kingdom to join the production team for Hunchback, and as the development phase furthered along, most of the entire animation team was moved out into a large warehouse facility on Airway in Glendale, California. As the Disney story artists, layout crew, and animators moved in their new quarters, they decided to name the building "Sanctuary."
Since Who Framed Roger Rabbit, other animators hired by Disney Feature Animation were from Germany, France, Ireland, and additional ones from Canada were involved in providing animation duties at the recently opened satellite studio, Walt Disney Animation Paris, of which about 20 percent of the film was done. Meanwhile, while Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida was prepping their first in-house production then titled The Legend of Mulan, at least seven animators penned about four minutes of screentime, mostly involving Frollo and Quasimodo. Layout, cleanup, and special-effects artists provided additional support.
To achieve large-scale crowd scenes, particularly for the Feast of Fools sequence and the film's climax, computer animation was used to create six types of characters - males and females either average in weight, fat, or thin - which were programmed and assigned 72 specific movements ranging from jumping and clapping. Digital technology also provided a visual sweep that freed Quasimodo to scamper around the cathedral and soar around the plaza to rescue Esmeralda.
The film's soundtrack includes a musical score written by Alan Menken and songs written by Menken and Stephen Schwartz. Songs include "The Bells of Notre Dame" for Clopin, "Out There" for Quasimodo and Frollo, "Topsy Turvy" also for Clopin, "God Help the Outcasts" for Esmeralda, "Heaven's Light" for Quasimodo, "Hellfire" for Frollo, "A Guy Like You" for the gargoyles, and "The Court of Miracles" for Clopin and the gypsies.
Three songs written for the film were discarded during the storyboarding process and not used: "In a Place of Miracles", "As Long As There's a Moon", and "Someday", a candidate to replace "God Help the Outcasts". Though not included in the body of the film, "Someday" is heard over the end credits, performed by R&B group All-4-One in the North American English release, and Eternal in the British English version. Luis Miguel recorded the version for the Latin American Spanish version, which became a major hit in Mexico.
In 1994, the film was scheduled for a Christmas 1995 release, though the film was reportedly delayed following the departure of Jeffrey Katzenberg from the Walt Disney Company. By January 1995, it was later pushed back to a summer 1996 release. The film premiered on June 19, 1996, at the New Orleans Superdome, where it was played on six enormous screens. The premiere was preceded by a parade through the French Quarter, beginning at Jackson Square and utilizing floats and cast members from Walt Disney World. The film was widely released two days later.
As part of the film's promotion, Walt Disney Records shipped two million products, including sing-along home videos, soundtrack CDs, and the "My First Read Along" novelized version of the film, aimed at a toddler demographic. Upon release, The Hunchback of Notre Dame was accompanied by a marketing campaign at more than $40 million with commercial tie-ins with Burger King, Payless Shoes, Nestle, and Mattel. By 1997, Disney earned approximately $500 million in profit with the spin-off products based on the film.
In its opening weekend, the film opened in second place at the box office behind Eraser, grossing $21.3 million. In a new box office strategy, Disney also included ticket sales which were sold from Disney stores nationwide, which added about $1 million to the box-office numbers. However, in comparison to Pocahontas, which had grossed $29 million the previous year, Buena Vista Pictures Distribution president Dick Cook defended the results claiming it was comparable to Beauty and the Beast, which opened in half as many theaters and grossed about $9 million. In foreign markets, by December 1996, the film became the fifteenth film that year to gross over $100 million surpassing the domestic box office gross and went on to accumulate $200 million. The film would ultimately gross just over $100 million domestically and over $325 million worldwide, making it the fifth highest grossing film of 1996, between Independence Day, Twister, Mission: Impossible, The Rock, and 101 Dalmatians.
Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 73% positive rating based on 51 reviews with its consensus stating, "Disney's take on the Victor Hugo classic is dramatically uneven, but its strong visuals, dark themes, and message of tolerance make for a more-sophisticated-than-average children's film." Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert rewarded the film 4 stars, calling it "the best Disney animated feature since Beauty and the Beast – a whirling, uplifting, thrilling story with a heart-touching message that emerges from the comedy and song". In his written review for the Chicago Tribune, Gene Siskel awarded the film 3½ (out of a possible 4) stars describing the film as "a surprisingly emotional, simplified version of the Victor Hugo novel" with "effective songs and, yes, tasteful bits of humor". Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly graded the film an A in his review and labeled it: "the best of Disney's 'serious' animated features in the multiplex era, (...) an emotionally rounded fairy tale that balances darkness and sentimentality, pathos and triumph, with uncanny grace".
Richard Corliss of Time praised the film, giving a positive review and stating that "the result is a grand cartoon cathedral, teeming with gargoyles and treachery, hopeless love and tortured lust" and also said, "Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz have written the largest, most imposing score yet for an animated film". Charles Spencer of The Daily Telegraph gave it a positive review, saying, "it is thrillingly dramatic, and for long stretches, you forget you are watching a cartoon at all... A dazzling treat". Variety also gave the film a positive review, stating that "there is much to admire in Hunchback, not least the risk of doing such a downer of a story at all" and also saying: "the new film should further secure Disney's dominance in animation, and connoisseurs of the genre, old and young, will have plenty to savor".
Also addressing the film's darker themes, The Daily Mail called The Hunchback of Notre Dame "Disney's darkest picture, with a pervading atmosphere of racial tension, religious bigotry, and mob hysteria" and "the best version yet of Hugo's novel, a cartoon masterpiece, and one of the great movie musicals". Janet Maslin wrote in her The New York Times review, "In a film that bears conspicuous, eager resemblances to other recent Disney hits, the filmmakers' Herculean work is overshadowed by a Sisyphean problem. There's just no way to delight children with a feel-good version of this story."
Upon opening in France in March 1997, reception from French critics towards Hunchback was reported to be "glowing, largely positive". French critics and audience even found resonance in the film when it mirrored a real-life incident from August 1995 where French police stormed a Parisian church and took away more than 200 illegal immigrants who were seeking sanctuary from deportation. "It is difficult not to think of the undocumented immigrants of St. Bernard when Frollo tries to sweep out the rabble," wrote one reviewer.
- BMI Film Music Award (Won)
- Satellite Awards
- Oscar 
- Golden Globes
- Young Artist Award 
- Best Family Feature Film - Animation (Nominated, lost against James and the Giant Peach)
The film currently stands with a 73% "fresh" rating at Rottentomatoes.com, with a 60% "fresh" rating by established critics (the "Cream of the Crop").
- Belle, Magic Carpet, and Pumbaa appear during the song "Out There".
- When Esmeralda is looking at Quasimodo's model of Paris, she notices a sculpture of the town baker - the same baker who appears in Beauty and the Beast.
- Main article: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (video)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame was first issued on VHS, standard CLV Laserdisc, and special edition CAV Laserdisc on March 4, 1997, under the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection label. It was then re-issued on March 19, 2002, on DVD and VHS, along with its direct-to-video sequel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II. A Blu-ray version of the film was released on March 12, 2013, along with Mulan and Brother Bear.
Disney Comic Hits #11, published by Marvel Comics, features two stories based upon the film.
Disney-MGM Studios had a stage show based on the film from 1996 to 2002. It was located in The Backlot Theatre in the New York Street section of the theme park (now called Streets of America). After the show's closing, and part of the re-theming of the area, a mural of a San Francisco street went up to block off the view of the theater's vacant interior. Recently, The Backlot Theatre underwent a major renovation to enclose it. No new attraction for the location has been announced, although it is often used during special events.
The film was adapted into a darker, more Gothic musical production, re-written and directed by James Lapine and produced by the Disney theatrical branch, in Berlin, Germany. The musical Der Glöckner von Notre Dame (translated in English as The Bellringer of Notre Dame) was very successful and played from 1999 to 2002, before closing. A cast recording was also recorded in German.
Years later, from 2014-2015, a North American production that kept the story closer to the book was opened to very positive reviews in the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego and the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey before closing. A cast recording released on January 22, 2016 sparked a renewed interest in the show, and fans on Change.org called for a Broadway transfer. However, Schwartz commented on the matter in an interview with Playbill.com, saying that the show was designed specifically for amateur theaters and will not move to Broadway. (Interestingly enough, in that same interview, Schwartz, who is also the creator of such Broadway hits as Wicked, Pippin, and Godspell, comically added that his two favorite shows that he's ever done, Hunchback and Children of Eden, have not been put on Broadway.) Rather, it will be available for licensing with Music Theatre International, the company that currently licenses all Disney theatrical productions
Currently, the North American version of the show is available for licensing with Musical Theatre International.
In 2002, a direct-to-video sequel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, was released on VHS and DVD. The plot focuses once again on Quasimodo as he continues to ring the bells now with the help of Zephyr, Esmeralda, and Phoebus's son. He also meets and falls in love with a new girl named Madellaine who has come to Paris with her evil circus master, Sarousch.
Quasimodo, Esmeralda, Victor, Hugo, Laverne, and Frollo all made guest appearances on the Disney Channel TV series House of Mouse. Frollo also be can seen amongst a crowd of Disney Villains in Mickey's House of Villains.
In 1996, to tie in with the original theatrical release, The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Topsy Turvy Games was released by Disney Interactive for the PC and the Nintendo Game Boy, which is a collection of mini-games based around the Festival of Fools that includes a variation of Balloon Fight.
A world based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame, La Cité des Cloches (The City of Bells), made its debut appearance in the Kingdom Hearts series in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. It was the first new Disney world confirmed for the game. All of the main characters except Clopin and the Archdeacon appear.
- This is the second of three Disney films in which Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz collaborated, the first being Pocahontas and the third being Enchanted.
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame was the first Disney animated film to contain a production budget around $100 million dollars at the time, until Tarzan three years later.
- Belle also makes a cameo appearance in the film. During the song Out There, Belle is seen walking through the streets reading her book, which would make some believe that both films take place at the same time. However, this is clearly impossible, based on the fashions, technology, and politics seen in Beauty and the Beast, which placed her film in the latter half of the 18th century, pre-revolutionary (pre-1789) France. Glen Keane confirmed that Belle's cameo in the film was not canonical. However, both time periods are similar in the fact that married women were viewed not as equal human beings under God (and the law of today), but as personal property and as obedient, servile slaves to their husbands that (in some extreme cases) can be bought and sold like any purchase (Gaston's behavior towards Belle and all women in his village is a testament to this, and Claude Frollo exudes a similar treatment to Esmeralda in the film as well).
- According to the song "Topsy Turvy", the story takes place during and after the 6th of January. However, there is no sign in the atmosphere that it is winter.
- This was the first Walt Disney Animation Studios film to include a post-credits scene.
- It was also the second Disney animated film in general to do so after James and the Giant Peach (released two months earlier).
- The filmmakers briefly considered having Quasimodo killed off, since that is his fate in the original novel. He was originally supposed to be stabbed by Frollo, then Esmeralda regains consciousness and tries to save him by killing Frollo. Phoebus was then supposed to meet up with them, and Quasimodo's last wish was to ring the bells one last time. They take him to the bells, then Esmeralda and Phoebus help him ring the bells as he dies. The final shot was going to include Esmeralda and Phoebus crying over their best friend as the people of Paris cheer for their success, unaware of Quasimodo's death.
- The filmmakers originally wanted Esmeralda to kill Judge Frollo in order to save Quasimodo. Esmeralda would've jumped onto the ledge then grabbed Quasimodo's hand. Judge Frollo would've attempted to kill Quasimodo with his sword then Esmeralda would've kicked Judge Frollo off the cathedral causing Frollo to fall to his death. This idea was ultimately abandoned, as having a heroine kill the villain was considered improper in a family film and may have gotten the film a PG-13 rating.
- This film was released the same year Jon Pertwee passed away. His family stated that he had seen every other Disney film during his lifetime and they ended up crying halfway through God Help the Outcasts because of his death and how sad the song was.
- This is the first Disney animated film where the male lead (Quasi) and female lead (Esmeralda) do not end up together, as in this case the female lead ends up with someone else (Phoebus).
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