HomeMoviesThe Top 10 Movies of 1996

The Top 10 Movies of 1996


Release Date: June 21st

Cast: Tom Hulce, Jason Alexander, Demi Moore, Tony Jay, Kevin Kline, David Ogden Stiers.

Directors: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise

Why I Love It (Aaron Sarnecky): I love this movie. I really do. When we did the Top 10 Superhero Movies list, I tapped Batman Begins as a strong candidate for my all-time favorite film. But it might actually be Walt Disney Pictures’ The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Sadly, unlike Batman Begins, it’s a movie that has been largely glazed over. If I had to theorize why, it’s because The Lion King is often viewed as the pinnacle of Disney’s accomplishments, so much so that Disney’s animated features of the latter half of the 1990s aren’t as celebrated as it, nor as celebrated as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin (all great films, to be sure). Hunchback has suffered the worst neglect though.

Why this movie in particular has been forgotten is not easy to answer, considering it was popular enough to make it onto this list (my high ranking of it helping, of course), but I’d wager that Disney has become a little uncomfortable with it due to some of its plot, like there being a song called “Hellfire” right in the middle (which you won’t find on the Disney Villains album, despite it being arguably the best villain song). Perhaps the MPAA should have rated it PG for thematic elements, instead of G. Then again, I saw the movie at the age of four and left the theater unscathed.

Hunchback poster

Hunchback has several themes. The least original theme is xenophobia, since Pocahontas covers it, but matching it up with hatred of the ugly and religious intolerance, they come to form the overarching theme of the mistreatment of those who are different. Again, this is touched upon in almost all of the animated Disney movies of the era, before and after Hunchback, but this movie addresses it to the greatest degree since it’s not just one form, making it feel like the culmination of previous reflections. The use of religion, Roman Catholicism in this case, makes this easily one of Disney’s gutsiest films. But it’s done both respectfully and fairly. The oppression of the ugly as a topic is also a big deal, since it goes against the ugly-equals-villain trope found in many works of entertainment, like Walt Disney’s Cinderella.

Outside some really deep content, this movie has almost everything you could ask for in a Disney movie. Great songs? Check. It’s some of composer Alan Menken’s best work, featuring lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (who did The Prince of Egypt, another underrated animated musical) and the amazing inclusion of Latin liturgical verses. How about funny bits to keep the movie from getting too depressing? Another check. Hugo the gargoyle (Jason Alexander), Djali the goat, and Clopin (Paul Kandel) steal many scenes. And well, it’s Disney. The animation and voice actors, led by Demi Moore and Tom Hulce, in his last theatrical role outside cameos, are top-notch. Granted, in the novel, Quasimodo is deaf and mostly mute, so the film takes some liberties. But, hey, it’s a musical.

Best Line: “You mistreat this poor boy the same way you mistreat my people. You speak of justice, yet you are cruel to those most in need of your help… Justice!” (Esmeralda)

Esmeralda says this line after she defies Frollo by helping Quasimodo during a public shaming, referencing the judge’s persecution of the Gypsies (known today as the Romani). As a rallying cry, it’s quite evocative. We should all strive to be like Esmeralda, who does not revile Quasi for his deformity. However, it’s very easy to be like Frollo. As good as villains like Scar and Hades are, Frollo is much more relatable. Outside his moments of doubt, which we all have, he believes that he’s doing the right thing. But it’s wrong to hate anyone for being different, whatever the case may be. In our vain society, it’s a struggle not to laugh and jeer at unattractiveness because it’s seemingly natural to do so. It’s a daily challenge but we cannot falter. Otherwise, praising this film is hypocritical. As stated in the end credits song, “Someday,” we must “live to live and let live.”

Best Scene: There are so many scenes that I could choose, like the beginning, the ending, and several songs. Part of it has to do with how young I was when I first saw it, but not only do multiple scenes make me cry or tear up, it makes me tear up just thinking about certain scenes. And I rarely cry during movies. Anyway, it’s a toss-up between the song “Out There” and “Heaven’s Light/Hellfire.”

For the sake of discussion, I’m picking “Heaven’s Light/Hellfire.” They’re technically different scenes, but they happen back to back and contrast one another. “Heaven’s Light” is a ballad by Quasimodo about Esmeralda (Moore) showing him compassion and his romantic feelings for her. It’s not the movie’s best song but it’s heartfelt. On the other side of things, his master, Judge Frollo (Tony Jay), suffers a bout of guilt over lusting for Esmeralda; Quasi sees her as an angel, but he views her as a temptress and a witch. This guilt culminates in “Hellfire.” Frollo’s visions in the fire, as well as the shadowy figures that loom over him, are truly haunting. Combine them with the Latin Confiteor, Jay’s singing, and Menken and Schwartz’s music and lyrics, and you’ve got a masterpiece.

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Pop-Break Staff
Pop-Break Staffhttps://thepopbreak.com
Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.

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