The last time I saw this was when it was originally released on video, so truth be told, this viewing made for a whole new experience. When I was younger, watching this, I remember not liking it so much because it was "too musical". In fact, I seem to recall fast-forwarding all of the musical numbers and establishing that any non-singing sequences amounted to only about 15 minutes or so (at least, that's how I remember it).
At the time, I was used to these movies being musical, but having the songs be a fun piece of things as opposed to overtaking the entire film. However, I was also just not in the right frame of mind back then. Nowadays, I have to appreciate that this is meant to be a full-on musical rendition of the tale of Quasimodo - the Hunchback of Notre Dame. What's even more interesting is that this opens up very unexplored territory for Disney animation in looking at classic "horror". I could see something very similar to this arising from 'Phantom of the Opera' or 'The Invisible Man' as they are now Public Domain.
Moving on, however, 'Hunchback' begins in 1462, Paris. A group of Gypsies, carrying a deformed baby, are ambushed by Judge Claude Frollo (Tony Jay) and his band of soldiers as they are trying to sneak into the city, illegally. Frollo snatches the child, assuming it's stolen goods, and is shocked at the "monstrosity" of a baby. In the process, he manages to kill the child's mother, and as a result is made to atone for his sin by taking in the child, and caring for him. Frollo names the child "Quasimodo" (or "Half-Formed"), and hides him in Notre Dame Cathedral's bell tower.
Twenty years pass, and Quasimodo (Tom Hulce) grows into a young man who lives his solitary life, making friends with the gargoyles, Victor (Charles Kimbrough), Hugo (Jason Alexander) and Laverne (Mary Wickes). The trio tries to convince Quasimodo to go to the annual Festival of Fools and have some fun for once in his life, despite Frollo's warnings of how he'd be treated. He does attend, and is even celebrated for his appearance, until a riot breaks out, started by one of Frollo's guards. Things escalate, but soon, Quasimodo is helped by the lovely Esmerelda (Demi Moore) who is probably my favourite unofficial Disney Princess. She stands up for the little guy, she can really hold her own in a fight, and she's loaded with confidence.
After all this, Esmerelda and Quasimodo flee to the Cathedral together, where they are pursued by Frollo's new guard, Captain Phoebus (Kevin Kline) who is quite struck by Esmerelda and refuses to arrest her, telling Frollo she has claimed sanctuary within the church. Without going into too much further detail, we end up with three dudes who have feelings for Esmerelda. Quasimodo sees her as a wonderful person, Phoebus sees her as a love interest, and Frollo actually tries to fend off his full on lust for her. This lust drives Frollo to need to destroy her in order to "break her spell on him", on account of her being a Gypsy in the year 1482.
I actually appreciate the musical that it is, as compared to the earlier Renaissance movies. It feels a bit like a Broadway deal, and each song sets the mood to great effect - especially between the opening number and 'Hellfire', Frollo's villain song. But while I can appreciate the film for what it is, I have to say that it's still not exactly in my "favourites" category. I think that there's still that part of me that thinks things are a bit too musical here, and maybe even a bit too serious for the kids. And all of that is fine, it's just not entirely my cup of tea when it comes to Disney Animation. It's a film that has my full respect for its attempt at trying something newish, but it's no 'Lion King'!