The Hunchback Of Notre Dame

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Mischievous bunch, the Disney decision-makers. Having got historical sticklers' collective goats with the clap-trap that was Pocahontas, what do they do? Have a crack at a great literary classic, and for good measure make it French. Truly a case of Up Yours, Delors - we shall kidnap the delicate maiden that is your cultural heritage and do with her what we will. You have to admire their front.

Actually - although there are, of course, many liberties taken with Victor Hugo's story of the orphaned bell-ringer, Quasimodo, befriended by the beautiful Esmerelda - this is relatively free of the gag-inducing, moral-majority-pleasing, family values guff that blights many Disney movies. Preoccupied with tolerance and acceptance, its heart is definitely in the right place, with the only wrong note being the re-written ending: who ends up with whom is a lesson in Disney's view of the natural order of things.

Disney films can be sliced up quite nicely into their component parts - Baddies, Goodies, Songs, Babe Factor, Laughs, Fascism, and Quality Of Funny Little Joke Characters. Split like this, Hunchback does quite well. The baddie Frollo (Quasimodo's adoptive dad, voiced by Tony Jay) is a complete bastard, transmogrified into a government official from Hugo's corrupt archdeacon, and well worth five stars. Kevin Kline's war hero Phoebus is a self-deprecating man of the people, and Quasimodo is a goody of charm and valour. Five stars. The songs are rubbish - one star. Esmerelda, voiced by and bearing a resemblance to Demi Moore, is enough to reduce grown men to tears. If you thought Princess Jasmine was a comely coquette and Pocahontas, frankly, very attractive, Esmerelda will make you question your sanity. Eight stars.

There are, however, not enough laughs in this movie - the whole thing is tinged with a darkness and religious symbolism that sits ill with the film's supposed childish nature. Two stars. The Fascist tendencies of so much Disney output is largely missing. Four stars. As for the Funny Little Joke Characters, they're not up there with, say, Timon and Pumbaa, but the Gargoyles have sufficient charm to pull through. Three stars. All of which adds up to a solid, enjoyable, beautifully animated Disney movie, but one not quite out of the top drawer.