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Toon Tuesday: Looking Back on Disney's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" -- Part Un

Toon Tuesday: Looking Back on Disney's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" -- Part Un

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Though not an overwhelming success, I think "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" was one of the most sophisticated animated films I've ever worked on. I actually went to my old pal, Gary Trousdale when I got word that he and his co-director Kirk Wise might be adapting this Victor Hugo novel for the screen. Frankly, I thought doing "The Hunchback" as an animated film was a totally crazy idea. And that's exactly why I wanted to be a part of it.

"The Hunchback of Notre Dame" was my return to animation after a ten-year absence. In fact, I never thought that I'd return to animation since I had found a new love. I was writing comics and children's books for Disney Publishing, and having a ball with my newfound freedom. This was a job I could do forever. However, the wild and wacky management of Michael Eisner decided otherwise. So I was booted out.

In case you're counting, this was the second time I got the boot from Disney. Ouch!

No matter. I simply returned to Walt Disney Feature Animation where I immediately doubled my salary. True story. You can't make this stuff up.

In the animation business you sometimes end up working for the kids you once hired. I remember a barefoot Gary Trousdale applying for a job a few years earlier. Now, he was my boss. That was cool of course, because I considered this film a dream project. I loved the score by Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken. And I was given the opportunity to work with some of the greatest talents in the business.

The producers, directors, writers and story artists of Disney's "The Hunchback of
Notre Dame." FYI: This photo was taken by Chris Sanders

For all its flaws, I still consider "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" a Disney masterpiece. Yeah, I know. We bit off more than we could chew. Still, I gotta hand it to our talented crew for taking the risk. After all, isn't that what creativity is all about?

One chilly November afternoon in 1993 we had the opportunity to pitch this "masterpiece" to our Disney bosses. Yeah, everybody was there, including Peter Schneider, Tom Schumacher, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Roy E. Disney and Michael Eisner. Our CEO was in a jovial mood and even joked about the less-than-successful debut of what was then called Euro Disneyland.

It's a pretty funny story, actually. Our art director David Goetz began his pitch with this description:"14th century Europe. A dark and dreary time. A time of hopelessness. A time of ..." Before Dave could finish his sentence, Michael Eisner blurted out "A time of Euro Disney!" Needless to say, the entire room broke out in wild laughter.

Who says Michael Eisner lacks a sense of humor?

One of the wonderful pieces of development art that was created for this film

So began the dark tale of the disfigured Hunchback sequestered in the bell tower of Notre Dame. Composers Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz were on hand to perform the songs that would grace this production. The music was well received, but Judge Claude Frollo's rendition of "Hellfire" clearly had the executives squirming nervously. Could this really play as a Disney film, they wondered?

In spite of the film's religious overtones, they bought it, and our animated motion picture was given a green light. Mind you, we were told not to make the movie too religious. A pretty daunting task when you consider how much of this story takes place inside of a big church.

The entire "Hunchback" team moved out of development into a large warehouse facility on Airway in Glendale. As the Disney story artists, layout crew and animators moved in their new quarters, we decided that our building needed a name. So a new one was chosen.

It was called "Sanctuary."

Early development art for Esmeralda

In Part Two of this series, you'll see why Gypsy girl Esmeralda was deemed way too sexy, and learn whether stone gargoyles can actually fly.

Did you enjoy Floyd Norman's story about the development of Disney's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" ? Well, this is just one of the hundreds of amazing tales that this Disney Legend has to share. Many of which you'll find collected in the three books Floyd currently has the market. Each of which take an affectionate look back at the time that Mr. Norman spent working in the animation industry.

These include Floyd's original collection of cartoons and stories -- "Faster! Cheaper! The Flip Side of the Art of Animation" (which is available for sale over at John Cawley's cataroo.com) as well as two follow-ups to that book, "Son of Faster, Cheaper" & "How the Grinch Stole Disney." Which you can purchase by heading over to Afrokids.com.

And while you're at it, don't forget to check out Mr. Fun's Blog. Which is where Mr. Norman postings his musings when he's not writing for JHM.


If you'd like to show your appreciation for all the great stories that you regularly read here on this website, then why not start out your next Amazon shopping spree by clicking on the banner above? That way, JHM gets a teeny tiny chunk of whatever you spend.

Happy Holidays!

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  • What I'd like to know is "Why?". The Disney animation resurgence was near it's zenith at this point. What brainiac throught animating a Victor Hugo religious drama - and then Disney-fying it? Thereupon lies an untold story and is a key to the history of Disney animation, which plunged from the heights of the animation art, ending up at "Home on the Range".

  • Wow, great timing, Mr. Norman! I was wondering about "Hunchback's" roots only yesterday while listening to Alan Menken's and Stephen Schwartz's gorgeous soundtrack. While I agree that yes, it was a crazy idea to tackle, and there are elements of the plot are very hit and miss for me, I do still love the art, the music, and the guts this movie must've took to make.

    Not to mention, this is one of the modern Disney animated flicks that I know jack about. Looking forward to Part Two!

  • Wait, Hunchback is flawed?  It's still one of my absolute favorite movies, and the soundtrack is unbeatable.  Pocahontas was flawed; Hunchback is a masterpiece.

    And that Esmeralda art?  Rawr!   All right, maybe the one flaw in the movie was changing that work of genius into the generic pretty-girl found in the movie.

  • Greetings Mr. Norman, This film is one of my favorites. I am looking forward to reading the future installments. By the way, that tribute to your grandfather on your blog the day after election day was nicely done.

  • Great stories as always, Floyd. I always thought "The Hunchback of

    Notre Dame", was a really good film.  I'm waiting for the time when these "musicals" will make a comeback...any theories? It's interesting because Pixar changed the landscape by taking away singing characters and everyone fell in line, accordingly.  Look forward to more of the story, and I always enjoy your blog!

  • I think "Hunchback" was an unfortunate choice as the subject of a Disney film. I think the Diz crew did their upmost to wringe some fun out of what is a very dark, tragic tale...but failed, ultimately. IMO, the only good thing about "Hunchback" was Mary Wicke's voicework. She rocked.

    I remember seeing Quasimodo dolls in toy stores, and thinking, "What kid would want to take THAT to bed?" :P

  • //For all its flaws, I still consider "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" a Disney masterpiece.//

    I wholeheartedly agree.  It features some beautiful animation, a brilliant soundtrack, and it dares to be more mature than your standard kiddie fare.

    I really hope they get the stage version to the States eventually, because the smaller scale stage show that was featured at MGM was always a highlight.

  • "Hunchback" is one of my absolute favorites - and arguably one of the most beautiful - Disney features, despite the juxtaposition of religion/violence and Disney.  I'm so thankful that I speak German so that I can fully appreciate the stage version.

    Looking forward to Part II!

  • IIRC Eisner was big on Hunchback- seeing it as tailor-made for a Broadway that likes its musicals big, emo and set in France.

  • Its funny that the executives were squirming over the Hellfire sequence, probably one of the most redeeming parts of the entire movie.  I'd say its the parts that try to play down to the kids (the gargoyles) that makes me squirm when I watch it.  There's a lot of great stuff in Hunchback, but I wonder how much better it could have been without the gargoyle characters.

  • But The Dude, then we wouldn't have gotten great lines like "Paris, the city of lovers/is glowing this evening/True, that's because it's on fire/but still there's l'amour..." and "When she want's ooh-la-la/Then she wants you-la-la!"

    The gargoyles were incidental enough that I don't have a problem with them.  They got one song and a added a bit of levity to the program.

  • A HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME article, yay!!! That's one of my all time favorite movies! Looking forward to the next article. :)

  • I remember seeing Quasimodo dolls in toy stores, and thinking, "What kid would want to take THAT to bed?" :P


    ME! I have a Quasi doll, and while it's not on my bed, it's right next to it.

    I love 'Hunchback.' It's my favorite Nineties Disney movie behind 'Beauty and the Beast' (A Trousdale/Wise picture as well.). The only thing I didn't like was the Gargoyles, but I can understand their purpose. They're there so Quasi doesn't look completely bonkers talking to himself.

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  • Nice post. I find out something totally new and difficult on blogs I stumbleupon regular. It will always be intriguing to read through information from other freelance writers and use something of their web sites.

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