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

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

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The start of 1994 was an amazing time for the production crew of Disney's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." We were all energized and couldn't wait to move our film into production.

As the team moved into its new quarters, I made it a point to learn the names and talents of my colleagues. Because Disney Animation was knee deep in production on another film down the street, many of our crew was new to Disney. Some had traveled from the UK, and some were from Canada.

The entire crew of Disney's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."
What a great group of talented guys and gals

One of our leads on Quasimodo was a new guy from the UK, and he was an awesome talent even back then. I knew James Baxter would be an animator to watch. I had worked with some of the Canadian animators at other studios, and it was good to team with them again.

Like most animated films, we struggled with story issues from the beginning. One such, was the opening sequence that introduces our bad guy, Judge Claude Frollo. Story veteran Burny Mattinson had put together a very effective sequence that covered a lot of exposition. However, production boss Jeffrey Katzenberg felt something was missing. In time, the sequence was eventually set to music and storyboarded by Paul and Gaetan Brizzi. The talented brothers joined our production and -- unlike most of us -- had actually lived in Paris. Set to the music of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, this opening sequence remains, in my opinion, nothing less than brilliant.

One of the movie's highlights is the "Festival of Fools." The wild and raucous song sequence was storyboarded by the talented Kevin Harkey. Huge crowds fill the streets of Paris to enjoy the crazy celebration. Animating crowd scenes -- once an animator's nightmare -- now became possible because the multitudes could be generated digitally.

 More of the beautiful development art created for the film

However, Esmeralda's dance number was another thing altogether. Lovingly drawn by Chris Sanders, the saucy Gypsy girl was a cause for concern by Disney's female executives. More and more clothes were added to Esmeralda in the hopes of "cooling her off." Another moment also caused concern. Claude Frollo sniffs the hair of the young woman, and again audiences cringed. Oddly enough, this was a scene animated by a woman.

As all of you probably know, much is cut when a movie is in story development. Scenes and sequences are excised to improve story flow and character development. It's a process everybody in this field has learned to trust.

However, I still regret the cool stuff that never made it into the movie. Such as Brenda Chapman's wonderful introduction to the mysterious Quasimodo lurking in the shadows. Children in the streets of Paris tell scary stories of the "monster" in the bell tower, and the audience eagerly anticipates the first appearance of the Hunchback.

 One of my story sketches from Disney's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."
This was from the cut pub sequence where Quasimodo, disguised as a woman,
is hit on by a drunken patron

I storyboarded a wacky pub sequence where Quasimodo, disguised as an "ugly woman" is hit on by a drunken patron. Eventually, the hunchback reveals himself and the drunk swears off booze forever.

Finally, I crafted a "rooftop chase" where Quasimodo pursues the soldier, Phoebus as he makes his way out of Paris. Climbing and sliding over the Paris rooftops, the very nimble hunchback demonstrates the abilities that will serve him well in the film's bell tower climax.

Of course, every movie has its serious and silly questions. "How could stone gargoyles fly," asked CEO Michael Eisner. Apparently, it never occurred to the boss to ask "How can stone gargoyles talk?"

Copyright 1996 Disney. All Rights Reserved

I attended a sneak preview of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" in Pasadena not far from the Walt Disney Studio. The audience consisted of young adults and teenagers, and I knew they would have no mercy. If our movie sucked ... Well, we would know soon enough.

After an hour or so, the end credits began to roll, and the usually jaded young audience began to applaud our efforts. Maybe we didn't hit a home run -- but we didn't do half bad.

Finally, I have a personal note concerning this very special motion picture. After having worked at the Walt Disney Company for several decades, I received my first screen credit on, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." Yeah, that's right. My first!

Directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise.
Two talented guys I really miss. I'll bet Disney does too

So thank you, Don Hahn, Roy Conli, Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale for giving this Disney veteran his first screen credit ever on a Disney animated motion picture.

Did you enjoy the conclusion of Floyd Norman's series 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.

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  • First screen credit?!! OH MY GOD, WHY?!!!!!!!!!

  • Hard to believe that was the first screen credit Mr Norman received. How is that possible?

  • Because they used to only credit lead animators, if even them.  Part of the reason modern credits sequences are so long is because modern productions are much more complex -- but they've also started crediting everyone who contributed to the production, right down to the gofers that bring the coffee.

  • Thanks for the great read.

    I've always been mixed about Hunchback.  If it were a completely original story, I think it would be a work of genius.  However, the radical deviation from the source material really makes it hard for me to fully enjoy it.  The production values are top notch--the animation and the music are superb--but I've just never completely warmed up to it.  It has a great plot, but the plot of the book is just so much better.

    It's always really cool to see Disney take risks, and Hunchback was definitely one of its biggest.  Unfortunately, there are certain things Disney just can't do, and a fully faithful adaptation of Hunchback is one of them.

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