Welcome back to the Disney+ Battle series. Every so often, I’ll match two popular Disney films against each other to see which one comes out on top through a series of five categories. This week, it’s one of the films from the Disney Renaissance against the last film of Disney’s Post Renaissance Era as “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” takes on “Bolt.” Let the battle begin.
The main character of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is the titular hunchback, Quasimodo. He’s a deformed orphan who is forced to live in the bell tower of Notre Dame, but comes to the aid of a gypsy girl named Esmeralda. He also helps the gypsies escape the evil Frollo, despite the fact Frollo “raised” him and help Phoebes in his efforts to stand up to Frollo. He’s a brave hero who loves the girl, but steps aside when he realizes the girl loves Phoebes. Meanwhile, the main character of “Bolt” is Bolt the dog. He is the star of a TV show, who thinks he’s really the superhero he portrays on TV. After accidentally being shipped to New York, he goes on a road trip to get back to Los Angeles, but most of the events happen to him, not because of him. Quite frankly, the cat and the hamster do more along the way. Yes, Bolt does risk his life to save his owner, but that’s the only time he does anything. Quasimodo is a better protagonist. Point to “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
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The villain of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is Frollo, and he’s arguable the most evil villain in the Disney canon. Frollo believes he’s doing God’s work as he tries to eliminate the gypsies from Paris. He’s claiming he’s doing the work of a benevolent deity while committing some of the most evil acts in humanity. He perverts religion and spirituality, twisting the words of the Bible to fit his will. Meanwhile, he sings a song about how it’s Esmeralda’s fault that he seems to have feelings for her when he thinks he shouldn’t. He joins Gaston in the realm of toxic masculinity, personified, but has fewer redeeming qualities. The villain of “Bolt” is the network executive who just wants his show to succeed. Yes, he is willing to put his actors, including Bolt, in some precarious situations, but it seems so low stakes compared to Frollo. Point to “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
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3. SUPPORTING CHARACTERS
While there are plenty of supporting characters throughout “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” the most entertaining are the gargoyles; Victor, Hugo and Laverne. Besides being a nice homage to “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” author Victor Hugo, they come up with some of the best comic relief in this film; especially Hugo, voiced by Jason Alexander at the height of his “Seinfeld” fame. Add in Esmeralda and Phoebes and it’s a formidable group. Meanwhile, Mittens and Rhino really drive “Bolt.” The cat and hamster are actually far more memorable characters than Bolt is. I think you argue they are more main characters than supporting characters, but the same can be said of Esmeralda and Phoebes. This one is tough, but I think Esmeralda and Phoebes are more important to the story, while the gargoyles are better comic relief. Point to “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
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“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” was released smack dab in the middle of the Disney Renaissance. During that time, all but one of the Walt Disney Animation Studios films was a musical, most of them with music written by Alan Menken. While the music in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” isn’t as easy to sing along to as the music from other films of the time, it still has a standout song in “Out There.” “Bolt” was released in 2008, during a time when Disney was licensing songs from popular artists for their films. Specifically, they licensed a song from Miley Cyrus while she starred as the voice of Penny in “Bolt.” Miley Cyrus has a lot of fans around the world, but this isn’t one of her more memorable songs. Despite it being the weakest of the Renaissance films musically, the point has to go to “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
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5. MEMORABLE MOMENTS
“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is filled with memorable moments. The festival of fools, “Out There,” “Hellfire,” Esmeralda standing up to Frollo, Quasimodo and Phoebes being captured by the gypsies in the court of miracles, Frollo’s assault on Notre Dame and Frollo falling to his death, ironically, into deadly flames all stand out. In contrast, the only really memorable parts of “Bolt” are Rhino’s interactions, the pigeons and Bolt risking his life to save Penny. Point to “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
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So, it’s a clean sweep for “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” While this was a dominant battle in one film’s favor, check out both of these films when you get the chance. “Bolt” is more fun, while “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” tells a better story. See you next time for another Disney+ Battle.