June 24, 1996 12:00 PM

Animated, with voices by Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Kevin Kline

Mickey Mouse is reading beyond his comprehension level. The Disney animators, for the studio’s 34th full-length cartoon, have picked up—oof! steady, guys, it’s heavy!—Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel, an overabundantly plotted melodrama set in 15th-century Paris. Quasimodo (Hulce), a deformed bell ringer, falls in love with Esmeralda (Moore), a gypsy dancer. She in turn is loved by a noble captain, Phoebus (Kline), and lusted after by Judge Frollo, the self-righteous hypocrite who locked up baby Quasi in the cathedral in the first place. The Disney trademarks—lavish animation, inanimate objects (gargoyles) transformed into vaudeville sidekicks, busy musical numbers—have been slopped between the grim, granite story blocks like weak mortar. The film succeeds in wringing tears, but, not surprisingly given its construction, seems constantly on the verge of collapse.

This Quasimodo, a sweet, simple realization, has large, expressive eyes and boyish energy. He looks like Nathan Lane crushed by a vise. Frollo, on the other hand, is richly complex and perverse. (He sniffs Esmeralda’s hair with a fetishistic hunger.) But who wants dark, psychological realism in a Disney cartoon? The cathedral, with its rose windows and big bells, is a marvel and will make an excellent attraction at the theme parks. (For a look at earlier versions of Hunchback, see next page.) (G)

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