THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME II
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 Disneys The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996). Stripped of Hunchbacks 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 Hugos 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 Disneys 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 Esmeraldas 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.