Director – Bradley Raymond, Screenplay – Flip Kobler, Cindy Marcus & Julie Selbo, Music – Carl Johnson, Animation – Walt Disney Animation (Japan) Ltd (Director – Kiyotaka Kantake), Art Direction – James Gallego. Production Company – Disney
Tom Hulce (Quasimodo), Jennifer Love Hewitt (Madellaine), Michael McKean (Sarousch), Demi Moore (Esmeralda), Kevin Kline (Captain Phoebus), Haley Joel Osment (Zephyr), Jason Alexander (Hugo), Charles Kimbrough (Victor), Jane Withers (Laverne)
The Circus de Sarousch arrives in Paris. The circus’s owner, the vain and egotistical illusionist Sarousch, runs a ring of thieves, which he sends out to rob his audiences while he has them spellbound. Sarousch wants to steal La Fidel, the fabulous jewelled bell of Notre Dame Cathedral. He sends his assistant Madellaine to woo Quasimodo and scope out the bell’s location. Madellaine has been forced to work for Sarousch ever since the age of six when he caught her trying to steal and made her work for him instead of turning her over to the authorities. Instead, Quasimodo and Madellaine find that they are falling in love with each other. Meanwhile, Captain Phoebus starts investigating the thefts and all evidence points to the circus.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame II is another in the endless series of cheap video and occasionally cinematically released sequels to most of their animated films that Disney have released throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Others of these have included:– The Return of Jafar (1994), Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1996), Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (1997), Pocahontas II: Journey to the New World (1998), The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride (1998), Fantasia 2000 (1999), The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea (2000), Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure (2001), Cinderella II: Dreams Come True (2002), Return to Never Land (2002), Atlantis: Milo’s Return (2003), The Jungle Book 2 (2003), 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure (2003), Stitch! The Movie (2003), Mulan II (2004), The Emperor’s New Groove 2: Kronk’s New Groove (2005), Lilo & Stitch II: Stitch Has a Glitch (2005), Tarzan 2 (2005), Bambi II (2006), Brother Bear II (2006), The Fox & the Hound 2 (2006), Leroy & Stitch (2006), Cinderella III: A Twist in Time (2007), The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning (2008) and TinkerBell (2008).
In occasional cases, some of these video sequels have been better films than the originals, notably some of the sequels to the Disney theatrical releases of the 1990s, which play far better when removed of the weighty pretensions that beset their big screen siblings. A good case in point is the superiority of Pocahontas II: Journey to the New World (1998) to the original Pocahontas (1995). Similarly, I never much liked Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996). Stripped of Hunchback‘s pretensions and particularly its perpetual pop-culture bombardments, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II is a more modest and enjoyable film. There are none of the scenes of Quasi riding around the cathedral like a hydro-sliding kid. On the other hand, this Hunchback is still a long way from Victor Hugo’s ugly, misshapen and tormented character – indeed, without all the angst about his appearance there was in the first film, Quasimodo is now no more than an ungainly love-smitten teenager.
The sequel has been made with some care. Certainly, much more has gone into the art than is usual for these video released sequels, which are usually cheaply churned out by Disney’s overseas tv animation facilities. The film opens with a very nice multi-plane cruise around the streets of Paris. The montage scenes with Quasimodo and Madellaine moving through the streets and dancing across the rooftops have a lyrical quality that even approaches something of the artistry of the Disney feature films. Most of the name cast from the first film – Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Kevin Kline, Jason Alexander – even return to repeat their voice roles here and the extra care shows.
The character of Madellaine is an appealing foil for Quasi, even if it is Victor Hugo reduced to about the level of a standard teen romance. (A romance theme runs throughout the film – in a mildly perverse move, even one of the gargoyles expresses its affection for Esmeralda’s goat, giving it a bunch of flowers – which the goat promptly eats). Madellaine has an entirely predictable story arc involving romance, betrayal and then redemption – the same story arc also served as the basis of Stuart Little 2 (2002) the same year that The Hunchback of Notre Dame II came out.
On the minus side, the film is surprisingly brief – only 68 minutes long. This does lead to an abrupt ending – Sarousch steals the bell, Madellaine tearfully repents, everybody races to stop Sarousch as he flees into the sewers, Madellaine does the high wire act she always wanted to and saves the day, The End. It is an ending that could have been drawn out with far more dramatic tension than it is and feels abruptly curtailed perhaps in order to keep production costs down. It also leaves a promising film ending on a note of disappointment.