The Hunchback of Notre Dame
As a baby, deformed Quasimodo was abandoned at Notre Dame Cathedral, and grew up swinging from the ropes of the belltowers. His only friends are the talking stone gargoyles and Frollo, his master. Frollo is a cruel, cold man intent on exterminating all gypsies. He has forbidden Quasimodo to leave his tower, but during the Festival of Fools he disobeys. Because of his disfigured, ugly face Quasimodo is crowned the King of the Fools, but when the crowd turns ugly he is cruelly tortured. A gypsy dancer, Esmeralda, saves him, but her defiance of Frollo's orders means that she is now a fugitive. As long as she is in Notre Dame, she is safe, but the minute she leaves she'll be be forced to be with Frollo, who is being driven mad with desire for her, or be executed. While trapped in the Cathedral, she meets Phoebus, Captain of the Guard, and the two begin to fall in love, even as Quasimodo falls for Esmeralda. There is no way this could possibly get awkward.
(Esmeralda is like honey to flies, or something. No man can resist her!)
So this is probably Disney's darkest animated movie. Sin, eternal damnation and Hell loom large in the film, as does the hypocrisy of powerful men. We've got a Minister of Justice motivated by racism and lust in Frollo, who pretty much wants to commit genocide and cleanse Paris of all gypsies. Tame and bland Disney like The Sword in the Stone this is not.
The music is really interesting. In multiple songs, Gregorian chants are interwoven with the main lyrics. The overall style is very Broadway...it seemed like they were going for the darker, heavy sort of music found in shows like The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables. Although I didn't think the songs themselves were all that great, I think the matching of the song to the animation was amazing. "Hellfire," sung by Frollo about his desire for Esmeralda, looks fantastic. Red-robed monks spring up around Frollo like the flames of Hell that he so fears, singing mea culpa...mea culpa even as he protests any blame for his feelings towards the gypsy.
Also, are the gargoyles real? That is, when they speak and bounce around is that actually happening, or is it all in Quasimodo's head? I'm still not sure about this. On the one hand, he's the only one who ever interacts with them, but on the other hand they help to fight during the climatic scenes and their actions affect the soldiers. Either way, ugh. Victor, Hugo, and Laverne were annoying. I remember seeing truly ugly mugs and dolls with their faces back when this movie was originally released. It killed Disney merchandising for me for years.
I'm pretty sure this is the only Disney film where the hero doesn't get their love interest. If you can think of another one, please correct me!
It's plenty good, but somehow it never seems great...can't put my finger on why.