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DVD Review of Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame 2
Review by Shannon Muir

Overall Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Individual Ratings
Feature: 7.5 out of 10
Sound: 8 out of 10
Picture: 8 out of 10
Bonus Materials: 4 out of 10
Navigation: 10 out of 10

Run Time: 68 Minutes
# of Discs: 1

Content Summary
- Main Feature
- "Festival of Fun" (game)
- "A Gargoyle's Life" (illustrated poem short)
- "Behind the Scenes with Jennifer Love Hewitt" (interview)

More Info from Amazon.com

Digital Media FX DVD Rating for Hunchback of Notre Dame 2

Review
HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME II picks up roughly seven or so years after the original, as evidenced by Zephyr (voiced by Haley Joel Osment), the young son of king's guard Phoebus (voiced by Kevin Kline) and his enchanting wife, the gypsy dancer Esmerelda (voiced by Demi Moore). Zephyr's formed a strong friendship with Quasimodo (voiced by Tom Hulce), who still rings the bell in the clock tower. This movie does assume you are familiar with the first film and doesn't really spend much time reintroducing characters save a few throwaway lines in the first musical number.

The theme of HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME II involves taking a second look and not jumping to conclusions. While this is most evident between Quasimodo the hunchback bell ringer and Madelline (voiced by Jennifer Love Hewitt), the magician's assistant who only works for the evil villain to keep from being turned into the authorities for trying to steal from the crook when she was a youth, the theme shows up in other relationships. The prize Notre Dame bell La Fidele appears more beautiful underneath than on its surface. There's also a subplot about Phoebus making assumptions regarding Madelline and the traveling circus and lumping them in with gypsies, despite the fact his wife Esmerelda is one, which causes friction between them.

The thrust of the story revolves around the Festival of Love coming to town, and Quasimodo lamenting there's no one for him. Esmerelda -- Quasimodo's crush from the first film -- tries to reassure him that someone will come for him. No sooner does this get said than a circus rolls into town featuring magician Sarousch (voiced by Michael McKean) and his assistant Madelline. Madelline's assigned by Sarousch to "wile and guile" the bell ringer so that La Fidele can be identified and ultimately stolen. This is largely because Sarousch plays as a self-absorbed, single-faceted, but ultimately cowardly character, who needs people such as Madelline and other assistants to do things for him. He exists more as a threat to influence Madeline's motivation than anything else. In fact, Zephyr exists mainly to up the stakes in the climax because Sarousch is such a weak character.

The strength of the movie comes in the growth of Madelline and Quasimodo's relationship to one another. Madelline first sees Quasimodo, and to the film's credit, becomes repulsed and runs off, refusing to complete Sarouch's assignment. How Madelline and Quasimodo come together for her to try again flows naturally, though possibly quickly given the film's timeframe. Early on, young Zephyr asks, "Who's going to scream your name tomorrow, Quasimodo?" (meaning, who will proclaim her love of him at the festival). Which means the events of this movie should take place over the course of a day and a half maximum. However, the climax with Sarousch comes at sundown of what would be the "tomorrow" referred to, ending the movie in broad daylight the following day. I can only be left to conclude that the part of the festival for which the bell was to be used originally should have happened at sundown. Also, it's not clear how Sarousch knew in advance exactly where the tunnels were under the town before his arrival, which from Madelline's comments he would had to have known to pull off his scheme. Overall, though, the evolution of their relationship proves enjoyable to watch.

The trio of gargoyles from the first film also appears in this movie, but there's not much I can say about them. Their appearances are few and far between, and I didn't really find any of the bits they did to be funny. Mainly, the three characters seem to be in out of obligation and for marketing.

Animation for this direct-to-video presentation was done, as most Disney "video premieres" are, by the Walt Disney Television Animation department. It's very well animated, full of dynamic action that keeps the story moving with few talking heads (and even then, they're "singing heads"). Speaking of singing, there are five musical tracks to this story, which range from average Disney fare to touching. "An Ordinary Miracle" proves to be the strongest of these in writing and lyrics, the fact it furthers Quasimodo's character, but most importantly how it captures the universal theme of looking at life and hoping for ordinary miracles to happen to us. "I'd Stick With You" is a fun buddy song between Quasimodo and young Zephyr. More average Disney fare are the opening crowd number "Le Jour De A'Mor," as setup for the Festival of Love commences, and "Fa La La La Falling In Love" celebrating the joy and discovery of Quasimodo falling in love with Madelline. Jennifer Love Hewitt's closing ballad "I'm Gonna Love You" feels like it shouldn't have been relegated solely to the closing credits. HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME II certainly could have benefited from the extra screen time, clocking in at a short sixty-eight minutes. The overall soundtrack plays crisp and clear, mastered in either Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1 for English. You can also choose French or Spanish soundtracks in Dolby Digital 5.1. For the hearing impaired, English language captions are also provided as an option.

The bonus materials seem to be an afterthought. My score is one point for the fact they bothered to include any, and mainly kudos for the nicely produced "Behind the Scenes with Jennifer Love Hewitt" piece, which is actually recycled from the Disney Channel film review program, MOVIESURFERS. Jennifer explains how she views the Madelline character and tells the story of how her song for Madelline became the movie's end theme.

"Festival of Fun" is a poorly animated game where you can choose to control either the ringing of a sequence of bells or the dance of a shadow puppet, up to six sequences or moves. The animated figure (Quasimodo ringing bells or the shadow puppet) always returns to a central position between each sequence or move and pauses for long periods, creating a jarring flow. The cutaways to the annoying jester hand puppet are done with black screen between, further leading to a choppy feel. While this game probably was designed to appeal to very young children, I'm not sure they'd be old enough to control the game with the DVD remote; a parent's help would probably be required.

"A Gargoyle's Life" is a short illustrated rhyming poem read by Jason Alexander (who plays the living stone gargoyle Hugo) about the day-to-day life of the gargoyles. Jason's reading is entertaining and funny, but the animation to go with it shows little effort. As little movement as possible appears in the shots, and what does calls attention to itself as extremely limited animation. Sometimes there were shots intercut from the films themselves, which made the newer, poorer footage all the more obvious. I felt I'd be better off not watching the screen and just listening to the reading. Given how little the gargoyles actually play a role in the movie, this seems a half-hearted attempt to make up for it.

Navigation is very simple. Basically you just follow a fleur de lis icon around as it points to your current selection. The menus are multi-tiered, with only a few choices on each level, not crowded at all. For the chapter selection screen, where a yellow box highlights your current selection, only four chapter choices with a corresponding still are shown per page (there are a total of twenty four chapters). Titles for each chapter are short and to the point, with no overly cutesy or clever names to distract or puzzle you.

How to ultimately weigh in on HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME II comes in as somewhat problematic. Based on screen time and character development, Madelline qualifies as the lead character when it should be Quasimodo, who comes in second. If this movie is truly viewed as a sequel, it comes up short as its main character does not come from the original cast; the original cast largely plays instead as support roles to Madelline. However, viewing the story strictly on its own merits, about a traveling circus girl who may find love and redemption through a hunchback bell ringer, it's a compelling, albeit short story. So I find myself having to deduct from the DVD's feature rating slightly for not living up to being a true sequel, but still recommend it as worth a rental at least.

PROS:
- Easy navigation
- Choice of DTS or Dolby Digital sound in English for audio connoisseurs
- Strong themes and compelling primary characters (Madelline and Quasimodo)

CONS:
- Running time of 68 minutes
- Weak bonus features
- Weak characterization of Sarousch

Digital Media FX DVD Rating for Hunchback of Notre Dame 2


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