The Hunchback of Notre Dame / The Hunchback of Notre Dame II
During the middle of their 1990s renaissance, Walt Disney Animation showed no signs of changing up their “Broadway Musical at the Movies” formula. And why would they, considering how much money The Little Mermaid and The Lion King made at the box office? Unfortunately, when Pocahontas was released, it didn’t make as much as they would have liked, and by then, they were already well under way into making their next film: The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
At first glance, this wasn’t the most obvious choice of source material for a family film. The original novel is filled with some mature themes and content. However, Disney managed to make it their own, and turn the tale of Quasimodo, the hunchback confined to the tower, into a loveable, adorable character.
In my honest opinion, I really feel like Hunchback is one of the most underrated animated films. Sure, the songs may not be as memorable as the ones from previous releases, but Disney worked its magic on the story here, and really made it shine. I don’t think it gets enough credit, especially now that I was able to revisit the film on Blu-Ray. It’s a classic Disney musical comedy, filled to the brim with some pretty fantastic characters.
There are some aspects of mature content in the film, but they are able to balance it out nicely. Judge Frollo’s internal struggle between his quest for justice and his own inner passion is quite interesting to see play out in a kid’s film.
As a side note, this never occurred to me as a child, but dawned on me re-watching the film now. The gargoyles while hilarious and provide a lot of the comedic relief of the film, are probably not even “real,” in the sense of the word that such things could exist in a Disney film. No one else sees them except for Quasimodo, and it’s quite possible that, because of his isolation for so long in Notre Dame, he simply made up these friends in his own mind. The fact that some form of mental breakdown is actually fodder for Disney humor kind of blows my mind now, but it still works in the context of the story.
Also included on this new release is the subpar, direct to video cheapquel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II. Honestly, the less that could be said about his film, the better. It’s lack of quality shows in almost all aspects.
The original film looks and sounds fantastic on the blu-ray conversion. There is incredibly sharp detail and vibrant colors. They did a wonderful job of it. On the other hand, Part II looks like a cheap, Saturday morning cartoon. It almost seems fitting, to go along with the rest of the film.
No new extras were created for this blu-ray release, but some of the best features from the 2002 DVD have made it on here, such as a great commentary with producer Don Hahn and directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. There is also a “Making Of” hosted by Jason Alexander that is sure to please old school Disney Channel fans. Part II also retains all of its original extras as well.
Overall, it’s not a bad release for fans of the original film. It would have been nice to see some of the extras updated and expanded for the blu-ray release (or even include some that have been missing for years), but considering neither is likely to get an updated blu-ray release anytime soon, this should please any Hunchback fan quite nicely!
Mulan / Mulan II
Jeff: For whatever reason, the first time I saw Mulan, I didn’t like it. I’m not entirely sure why, but it just didn’t sit right with me, However, on subsequent viewings, I came to appreciate it more and more. Re-watching it again, I have to commend Disney for breaking their typical formula, and centering a film on a strong, female protagonist. Much like they would do years later with Brave, Mulan gives little girls a new message: you don’t need to be a damsel in distress, and wait for someone to save you. Go out and do it yourself.
George: When I saw Mulan in the theaters, I fell in love with her, er, it. The film. Yeah. Anyway, I thought it was a breathtaking animated film that seemed to be one of the more grown up films that Disney had done until that time. They took a big step with the artistic direction in this 1998 film. The backgrounds seemed to take on a lush and more mature feeling than it’s predecessors.
Jeff: I don’t remember ever seeing Mulan II before this viewing, either, and to be honest, this is one of their better direct to video efforts. The story here just seems so much better than what they usually churned out for these cheapquels, and the animation seems a notch above it too.
George: Mulan was the 36th animated film released by Walt Disney Animation Studios. It’s at the tail end of the second golden era and seemed to suffer from too many Disney films of the same ilk. (It was shoehorned between Hercules and Tarzan—another set of very under-appreciated films.) The animation was really well done and has the distinction of being the first production from the defunct Florida Animation unit.
Jeff: Visually, both films hold up on the blu-ray transfer quite well. Again, I had high expectations for Mulan, which it met in this area, but Mulan II’s visual presentation blew me away. Maybe it was because it was cared for a little bit more when it was released, but it really does look great.
George: One of my biggest complaints was that Eddie Murphy never got the critical and comedic fame for his role as the voice of Mushu. It reminded me of the lack of attention that Robin Willimas received for Aladdin. Eddie’s humor brought a more modern take and was such a better role than the donkey he would play later. Still, the film is gorgeous and it has a fantastic soundtrck.
Jeff: Much like Hunchback, Mulan brings nothing new to the table for its blu-ray release. Considering this is the 15th Anniversary of the film, the fact that it just rehashes its old DVD extras is a bit disappointing, especially since they are all in standard def. There is the audio commentary track with Producer Pam Coats and directors Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook, which isn’t bad on its own. Deleted scenes and making of featurettes round out the first film. Mulan II only has three short extras, which really are nothing to write home about.
Jeff: Overall, this is a strong release week for Disney films. If you already own them on DVD, I’m not sure if the high-def transfer alone will sell you on an upgrade (but they do look wonderful), but I would definitely recommend them if you don’t already own them!
Do you plan on picking up these releases?
By Jeff Heimbuch and George Taylor
The Disney Review is written and edited by Jeff Heimbuch and George Taylor
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