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The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Composed and Produced by:
Alan Menken

Lyrics by:
Stephen Schwartz

Orchestrated and Conducted by:
Michael Starobin

Walt Disney Records

Release Date:
June, 1996

Also See:
The Little Mermaid
Beauty and the Beast

Audio Clips:
2. Out There (0:31):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (251K)
Real Audio (156K)

7. Hellfire (0:37):
WMA (234K)  MP3 (290K)
Real Audio (180K)

11. Sanctuary! (0:30):
WMA (193K)  MP3 (238K)
Real Audio (147K)

14. The Bells of Notre Dame (0:33):
WMA (215K)  MP3 (266K)
Real Audio (165K)

Regular U.S. release.

  The score was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame
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Buy it... if you have yearned to hear Alan Menken and the modern Disney musical franchise take a serious turn together, for the liturgical music for The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a sharp contrast to their previous collaborations.

Avoid it... if you have little tolerance for the comedy numbers that inevitably break up the mood of Disney's otherwise dramatic stories.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame: (Alan Menken) The 1831 Victor Hugo novel on which several film versions of The Hunchback of Notre Dame have been based was not a likely candidate for Disney to adapt into an animated children's musical, but the studio managed to twist around the story enough to make it work. Unfortunately, in the process of doing so, many of the more interesting aspects of the convoluted love story, along with its inevitable tragedy, were sacrificed for the sake of targeting young audiences. The basics are all there, with Quasimodo, the badly deformed bell-ringer of Paris' Notre Dame cathedral caught in an identity crisis that's complicated by the emergence of a gypsy named Esmeralda, and his begrudging caretaker (of sorts), Judge Claude Frollo. Also in the mix is the captain of Frollo's guards, Phoebus. All are smitten with Esmeralda, which presents a particularly interesting problem for the pious Frollo, an aspect of the story that's been retained for mostly the adult audience. Like many before it, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (along with its songs and score), stirred up a flourish of anger in certain American communities. Religious conservatives, an embarrassingly growing force in American politics in the 1990's, boycotted this film because of the song "Hellfire," a suggestive rejection of purity amplified by imagery of a half-naked Esmeralda dancing in a fire. A few months after that, a group of Baptist organizations went a step further and boycotted Disney all together, partly due to the controversy of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and partly because Disney World announced its support for gay rights. On the flip side, overly sensitive left-wing liberals who claimed to fight for the rights of the handicapped also boycotted the film and its soundtrack, rejecting the term "hunchback," which, in the politically correct environment of the 1990's, was deemed inappropriate. It's hard to imagine what Hugo would have thought of not only this musical but also the morons who protested it. Alan Menken's songs and scores were similarly met with controversy, but luckily the complaints regarding the music were better grounded in reasons of quality.

The film turned out to be last of Disney's successful string of musicals in collaboration with composer Alan Menken, with whom the studio had reinvented the genre with The Little Mermaid. Each successive film and soundtrack since Beauty and the Beast had been slightly less attractive, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame is arguably the final impressive achievement by Menken before his work for Hercules the following year would wipe him off the Disney map until 2004's Home on the Range. This entry also represented the end of the line for Menken's unparalleled string of Oscar wins. While nominated for its score, The Hunchback of Notre Dame was upset by Rachel Portman's Emma, a disappointment despite the problems that Menken's score suffers. After such grand success with his previous Disney collaborations, Menken, much like Quasi, was suddenly becoming an outcast. Despite a few intentional breaks for comedy numbers, the constantly frightening Latin chants and a heavy string, timpani, and choral bass managed to scare many children (and parents, for that matter) right out of the theatre. This move alone, however, was not what sunk the film and its album in the end. Had Disney and Menken decided to be true to the dark nature of the story, the film could have been a brilliant adult feature, embracing the "Hellfire" and "Sanctuary!" elements of the soundtrack and letting loose with a truly interesting result. Unfortunately, a spattering of comedy pieces (with the usual talking inanimate objects leading the way) lead to the three silly songs that ultimately cause the film and album to be only a mixed bag. Working against them are the serious, dramatically brilliant pieces that resemble some of Menken's very best work. Among Menken's better songs of introduction is "The Bells of Notre Dame," establishing the rich combination of chimes, organ, and choir that define the score in elegantly harmonic tones under the pleasant narrative voice of Paul Kandel. Also impressive is David Ogden Stiers as the Archdeacon; the actor was a featured performer in both Beauty and the Beast (Cogsworth/Narrator) and Pocahontas (Ratcliffe). Also introduced is Tony Jay, whose gritty performance as Frollo has always been heralded as one of the film's greatest strengths.

The character song "Out There" opens with a frighteningly sinister conversational interaction between Frollo and Quasimodo before the latter performs his compelling cry for identity with flourishing and redemptive orchestral accompaniment. Tom Hulce's voice, especially compared to Jay, is appropriately light. Technically the primary song is "God Help the Outcasts," performed elegantly by Heidi Mollenhauer since apparently Demi Moore couldn't sing well enough to suffice. A truly lovely and inspirational piece, this song is reprised by Bette Midler for the pop song rendition over the end credits. Somewhat of a reprise of "Out There" is "Heaven's Light," giving Hulce another opportunity to sing to all of Paris in optimistic tones. Conversely, the darkest depths of The Hunchback of Notre Dame exist in "Hellfire," one of the most stunning visual and aural combinations in animation history. A Latin mass leads into Jay's hauntingly deep performance of Frollo's torment, producing a song so overwhelmingly compelling in an evil sense that it alone was worth the cost of admission (and the album). The instrumental accompaniment to "Hellfire" informs much of the score that chronologically follows in the film. Unfortunately, the three lighter songs are a significant detriment to the gains of the aforementioned themes and performances. The gypsy song "Topsy Turvy" is a carnival-like, French-styled piece for the Feast of Fools; the static pounding of the title lyric is extremely irritating. The three talking gargoyles perform a slight jazz comfort song in "A Guy Like You" that uses, like "Topsy Turvy," the Broadway line-dancing technique of stopping the song and then progressing its bloated performance from a standstill to proper tempo. This technique was fine in "Be Our Guest" during Beauty and the Beast, but with two usages in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, it became predictable and tiresome. Also breaking the spirit of the film's larger tone is "The Court of Miracles," a jaunty and short gypsy-styled piece meant to extend the narrative rather than establish another primary theme. The film ends with a reprise of "The Bells of Notre Dame" in glorious fashion, taking Menken's standard choral finale format and extending it to strikingly overblown levels (with even a false ending for good measure).

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The score remains consistently dark and menacing, with lengthy sequences of adult choral chanting, distinguishing itself from Menken's usual light-hearted tones for the genre. The employment of the songs' themes in the score tracks isn't as well integrated as it is in, for instance,Beauty and the Beast, but it suffices. The high pitch choral sound of "The Bells of Notre Dame" and "Topsy Turvy" merge with fragments of the Quasimodo half of "Out There" for a disillusioning ̉HumiliationÓ cue. The gorgeous highlight of the score is "The Bell Tower," which explores lovely incarnations of the theme for "God Help the Outcasts" with a full choral performance of "Out There" at 1:20. Both "Paris Burning" and "Sanctuary!" explicitly continue the instrumental backdrop and Latin chanting of "Hellfire," a sound that becomes more general in "And He Shall Smite the Wicked." The immense sound of these three cues is remarkable for Menken, but the tolling chimes, relentless organ, and forceful Latin chants are often presented in unison, which could cause you a headache if you're not prepared for their sheer volume. "Into the Light" concludes the score with a final, choral reprise of the theme from "Out There." Menken's ability to stir up chanting ruckus isn't as accomplished as that of major, dramatic composers of the time, and a lack of sincerity in these sequences remains an issue. On the whole, Menken's magical touch continues to show itself at points in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The vocal cast was very well selected (except for Moore) and is a pleasure to hear in every song. Stephen Schwartz's lyrics are sharper than Howard Ashman's were, with an erudite vocabulary in especially the Follo lines. The indecision about the film and score's final attitude towards the story leaves it a level below his Academy Award winning efforts, however. A disaster was awaiting the franchise the next year, with the overemphasis on the comical routine producing a wretched and embarrassing sound for Hercules. Unfortunately, The Hunchback of Notre Dame would be Menken's last widely-recognized and Academy Award nominated score of the decade, and even so, it's a step behind Pocahontas and leagues away from Beauty and the Beast. At least Menken went out with one really noisy, liturgical bang. *** Price Hunt: CD or Download

Bias Check:For Alan Menken reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.45 (in 11 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.51 (in 56,795 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

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   it's all but a scary ost
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   Scares Kids? I beg to differ.
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  kif -- 5/5/06 (5:38 p.m.)
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 Track Listings: Total Time: 57:21

• 1. The Bells of Notre Dame (song) (6:24)
• 2. Out There (song) (4:25)
• 3. Topsy Turvy (song) (5:36)
• 4. Humiliation (1:40)
• 5. God Help the Outcasts (song) (3:44)
• 6. The Bell Tower (3:05)
• 7. Heaven's Light/Hellfire (song) (5:24)
• 8. A Guy Like You (song) (2:54)
• 9. Paris Burning (1:56)
• 10. The Court of Miracles (song) (1:27)
• 11. Sanctuary! (6:02)
• 12. And He Shall Smite the Wicked (3:30)
• 13. Into the Sunlight (2:09)
• 14. The Bells of Notre Dame (song) (1:11)
• 15. Someday - performed by All-4-One (4:20)
• 16. God Help the Outcasts - performed by Bette Midler (3:27)

(track lengths not provided on packaging)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert contains extensive lyrics and credits, but no extra information about the music or the film.

  All artwork and sound clips from The Hunchback of Notre Dame are Copyright © 1996, Walt Disney Records. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 9/24/96 and last updated 9/4/08. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 1996-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.