It seems I made a bit of a mistake in my original intended review. As it turns out, Disney’s Return to Neverland, was, surprisingly, released in theaters, and therefore, doesn’t qualify for DTV Hell. I may decide to break my rules and review it anyway at some point in the future, but I have bigger fish to fry now. I was planning to save this piece of crap for another day, but hey, after a very good movie like The Call of Cthulhu, it’s best to follow up with not only one of the worst Disney sequels ever, but the sequel to what I consider to be the best Disney animated movie.
When Disney adapted Victor Hugo’s legendary novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, most people who had read the book were not enthusiastic. However, Disney managed to maintain some of the same mature religious commentary that peppered Hugo’s original work, and even by watering down many of the characters and streamlining the villain, it still managed to be one of their darkest and most impressive works until Pixar came along. And, of course, it had the best Disney soundtrack outside Fantasia, even if it was mostly playing off of only a few songs and just reworking them.
So, of course, in what unfortunately became typical Disney fashion in the worst of the era of Michael Eisner, a sequel was produced for Direct to Video release, in 2002. That would be six years after the original movie, but not even close to the record for longest time between original and sequel (Sleeping Beauty holds that dubious honor with a 48 year gap between the original movie and the cash-in Disney Princess movie).
So, of course, what you might want to know is how the hell Disney made a sequel to The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a movie that honestly had nowhere left to go realistically. Well, I assume it involved some kind of infant sacrifice, but I can’t really be sure. Let’s take a look at The Hunchback of Notre Dame II.
We start off following some birds. Wait, hold up, I’m already pissed. Do you remember the beginning of the first movie? It started with music even before the blue Disney Castle logo appeared, and as we finally reached the movie, we were suspended above the clouds as the absolutely fantastic “Bells of Notre Dame.” It was gorgeous, and it set up the background of the movie wonderfully. Here, we get some birds. No real fanfare, and a horrible song coming up just to make it worse. If this were a separate movie, maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t be so bad to start like this. Not for this movie. Already, it is plainly obvious that this is nothing more than a soulless cash-in attempt.
And now, the first song, which is terrible. After the opening demonstrated how absolutely laughably BAD the animation itself is, we get to hear an uninspired song about how there is ANOTHER festival, and something about a bell called La Fidel. We already saw the bell, but considering how terribly ugly it was (like everything else so far), I get the impression that the citizens of Paris are all high. The festival is a festival of love this time around, and, of course, Quasimodo is all sad that he doesn’t have anyone to be with. You know, since he totally gave up his true love last time so that she could be happy. Kinda sucks, eh kid? The only decent part of this song is the cameo of the little girl who first accepted Quasi at the end of the first movie, alongside Zephyr, Phoebus and Esmeralda’s son. Yeah, I’ll get to that in a second.
He goes up to the tower, where the hallucinations bicker with each other. He then asks them for help setting up for the festival, which I guess makes sense to him. Honestly, I have to say that Quasi looks a bit better in the crappy animation then he did in the good animation, and that is another strike against the movie. Quasimodo was still ugly in the first movie, even after Disney’s facelift in comparison to the novel, but in this movie he doesn’t look as bad. Also, Zephyr shows up again, and now I’ll talk about him.
Of the Disney movies I’ve seen, it appears only 3 women from the first movie end up with children of their own in the second movie of their particular story. Wendy Darling from Peter Pan has two kids in the surprisingly decent movie Return to Neverland, Ariel has a daughter in the interesting Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, and Esmeralda has a son in The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, this piece of crap. In these cases, none of these women looks that much older or like she’s had children except for Wendy. Ariel kinda looks like she might be a bit older, but Esmeralda looks exactly the same as she did before, despite her kid being obviously at least five or six. I’m going to assume she adopted him for the sake of my own sanity, despite him looking kinda like a mini-Phoebus. Anyway, Quasi plays with the kid while the goat… wait a second, did that gargoyle just kiss the goat?
NO, NO, NO! The gargoyles are hallucinations created by Quasimodo’s mind to cope with his loneliness. They always have been, so why are they able to actually affect the real world this time? Well, okay, maybe it’s just animals that can see the hallucinations.
Well, Phoebus and Esmeralda show up to attempt to be lovey-dovey in front of their obviously lonely friend (like Valentine’s Day for last six years all over again). And the kid adds to the pain because children are oblivious. Esmeralda (wow, Demi Moore apparently phoned this in collect) throws out pointless encouragement met by Quasi’s realism, though there is a nice funhouse mirror moment where we see a kinda cute version of Quasi. Oh, yeah, and the circus shows up. And thus, we meet the OBVIOUS LOVE INTEREST for our dear, deformed friend. Oh, and she’s clumsy and walking a tightrope. So, we also have our villain this time around, a man by the name of Sarousch, who proceeds to belittle our female protagonist, and orders her to go find the bellringer and get him to explain where La Fidel is, so that he can steal it. That’s right, steal a gigantic bell from the Notre Dame cathedral. You know, if he sold tickets to THAT, he could retire from this whole circus thing altogether and change his name to David Copperfield. In any case, the gargoyles look on as she wanders the bell tower, calling for Quasi.
Wait, did she just see HIS HALLUCINATIONS? Oh, sonuva… seriously? More of this inconsistancy? Dear lord, what did mankind do to deserve this? You know, other than the obvious.
Well, she manages to talk to Quasi as he is obscured from her view, but as soon as she sees him, she bolts. Yeah, okay, let me be frank, I kinda relate to this girl. She seems genuinely kind, clumsy, happy on the outside but sad on the inside. And, of course, she thinks Quasimodo is pretty terrible to look at, but, as we learn later, might be capable of actually seeing past that. Oh, and she has undiagnosed mental illness (okay, mine’s a technicality).
Definitely troubled by the experience, he quickly carves a figure of her, and begins to consider the possibility of maybe having a person to love him. It’s worth noting that this song is actually not bad, and could be argued as the best thing in the movie. It isn’t really on the list of the best songs Disney has done, but it is solid. Unfortunately, the biggest problem with it is the animation, which is so poor it makes the many references to the original movie that occur in this song look terrible. Though, luckily, also after the song is the only decent joke in the movie.
So, Quasi dresses up like some kind of Medieval Huggy Bear, and wanders over to the circus with the Esmeralda family. Not much is interesting here outside the latent racism of Phoebus, though we get more backstory on Madeline that I honestly can’t care about due to the amazing amount of GAY that the villain exudes in this movie. During the show, Sarousch has his staff members steal everyones valuables, but at least they look less horrifying than the clowns in Pocahontas II. In any case, Quasi sings along with Zephyr, and Madeline warms up to Quasi after seeing him humor the kid’s terrible singing by singing along in his still amazing voice. The two finally head out on the town together as she has finally seen the beauty within. Then, he shows her the beauty within some other things in Paris, though thankfully not the “beauty within” his pants.
Also, we have Phoebus taking complaints about robberies that have conveniently started at the same time the circus showed up. Luckily, Phoebus has intellect higher than a block of moldy cheese, so he instantly figures out that the circus has something to do with it. THEN we see Quasi and Madeline on the town, and it leads into the biggest WTF moment of the movie: the townspeople joining in on a musical number started by the gargoyles. Yeah, there isn’t enough time in a day to explain how much sense that doesn’t make. On a side note, something technically relevent that also never made sense to me: how a souffle is considered “ruined” if it doesn’t look right.
Back to the regularly scheduled summery/review, the gargoyle’s song is terrible. Anyway, Madeline finds La Fidel, which continues to boggle my mind. Why would you need something that gaudy anyway? Jewels, gold, absolutely beautiful inside, but what the hell is the point? You’re just gonna screw it up with the knocker inside the bell.
Anyway, the next day, he tells Esmeralda that he is in love with Madeline, and Phoebus shows up to piss everyone off, with Quasimodo rather logical about the idea of not judging someone before you have the facts. And, of course, Sarousch threatens Quasimodo in front of Madeline. Yeah, threatens QUASIMODO. This makes absolutely no sense to the audience. Quasimodo is a living pain machine if you piss him off, Sarousch is a man in a girdle with a troupe of rather average looking flunkies. I think Quasi can take him. But, of course, she falls for it, and leads him away, after Phoebus catches Sarousch’s hand in the cookie jar, so to speak. Sarousch, predictably, blames everything on Madeline, and for no good reason, Phoebus buys it. Also, the villain gloats about success when the Captain is within earshot right outside the door. Seriously? He didn’t hear that?
In any case, Zephyr follows Sarousch because he wants to be in the circus (wow, don’t get much older than that for a cliché). After a short, rather disturbing scene of the fat gargoyle pining for the goat, the thieves pop up in the tower to steal the bell. The gargoyles try to fight them off, but fail, as they are hallucinations, and can’t do anything really. He steals the bell, and Zephyr chases him instead of, you know, actually going for help. Quasi feels betrayed, but doesn’t have time to waste, as he has to chase the idiotic kid. The town is sealed off and the bell is transported through Paris’s absurdly spacious sewers. Zephyr is, of course, caught, and stupidly reveals that he is the Captain’s son. Madeline reveals Sarousch’s plan, though it still doesn’t make much sense. How did he get the bell down from the tower exactly? In any case, we’re almost done, so let’s press forward. Phoebus doesn’t trust her at first, but they let her out and she leads them to Sarousch. He threatens the boy, but Madeline uses her previously mediocre high-wire skills to save him, and Sarousch is brought to justice. Our movie ends with the festival playing out, with the movies various couples declaring their love, including Phoebus’s horse getting a girl horse for no reason. And that’s that. I assume sex was later had by all. Ew.
So, where would a movie like this belong in DTV Hell? Well, the circle of greed seems the best location, as this was such an unbelievably obvious, unenjoyable cash-in. Though, with the whole gargoyle/hallucination thing getting ignored, I could put it in a traitor’s circle, and boy, I would love to do that. Really, there was so little good about this movie, it makes Return to Neverland look like a brilliant piece of cinema. Hell, it makes S. Darko seem watchable. My recommendation is to avoid this movie if at all possible, though if you must come in contact with it, wear gloves.