The Hunchback of Notre Dame
With voices by: Demi Moore, Tom Hulce, Mary Wickles, Jason Alexander, Charles Kimbrough, Kevin Kline
Directed by: Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale
What was Disney thinking? How could its mighty animation machine choose Quasimodo, the monstrous creature incarnated by the likes of Lon Chaney and Charles Laughton, as the cartoon character to sell to children everywhere? But judging from 15 minutes of soaring Alan Menken-Stephen Schwartz songs that wowed the exhibitors and the press at March's ShoWest convention, the same directors who created 1991's Beauty and the Beast have turned what seemed an unlikely wellspring for a Disney animated musical Victor Hugo's 1831 600-page socio-political tract, The Hunchback of Notre Dame into a sophisticated musical drama. And in true Disney style, Hunchback looks perfectly suited for worldwide consumer exploitation. ''The whole movie hinged on Quasimodo,'' says producer Don Hahn. ''He's not your typical hero. We didn't want a monster-movie version of Frankenstein's Mummy. So we made him young.''
As drawn by James Baxter and powerfully spoken and sung by Hulce (Amadeus), Quasimodo is an orphan who lives at the top of the Notre Dame bell tower; his only companions are three stone gargoyles (Alexander, Kimbrough, and Wickes), who supply the film's much-needed comic relief. His only human contact is cruel guardian Claude Frollo (Tony Jay), the ambitious judge who killed Quasi's Gypsy mother. ''When you're doing Disney you have to be simpler,'' says the Royal Shakespeare Company's Jay (Nicholas Nickleby). ''The theme is very Disney, the ugly little creature with the heart of gold. The age-old truth is, never judge a book by its cover.''
Consistent with Hunchback's theme of solitude, the vocal performers recorded their lines independently. As a result, Kimbrough never came in contact with his fellow gargoyle Wickes, 85, who died on Oct. 22 about six weeks after voicing her role. ''It's the strangest situation,'' says Kimbrough, ''because I'm sure it will sound as if the three of us were working in the same room.''
The result, Disney hopes, is a kid-friendly cartoon that's also a grown-up date movie: When Quasimodo finally ventures into the market square, he falls hunch over heels for the kind and notably curvaceous Gypsy girl Esmerelda (spoken, but not sung, by Moore). ''We're growing up,'' says Hahn. ''Animation isn't just a children's medium. We try to stretch each time. But at the end of the day, we're still trying to entertain.'' (June 21)
BUZZ Funny, lush, heartbreaking it'll ring your bell.
The Cable Guy
Starring: Jim Carrey, Matthew Broderick, Leslie Mann
Directed by: Ben Stiller
This much is certain: In a more menacing role than his fans are used to, Carrey is a lisping, desperately lonely cable installer with a near-fatal attraction to a subscriber (Broderick), and he was paid a record-breaking $20 million (half the film's budget). This much is not certain: Who wrote it? The first five drafts of the script were composed by first-time screenwriter Lou Holtz Jr., who was working as an L.A. prosecutor when he came up with the idea. ''A few years ago I was in my mother's apartment building one night and I saw a cable guy walking down the hall,'' says Holtz. ''I remember thinking 'What's he doing here so late?''' His screenplay became the focus of a bidding war; Columbia won at a price of $1 million and attached Chris Farley to star. When Farley dropped out because of scheduling difficulties, Carrey signed on along with writer-producer Judd Apatow (Celtic Pride), who kept Holtz's basic story but altered scenes and dialogue for Carrey, playing up the thriller aspect of this comedy-thriller. ''The best parts of Lou's draft were more heightened and intense,'' says Apatow, who recently lost an intense Writers Guild arbitration with Holtz for sole script credit. No hard feelings, though. Says Apatow: ''If you punch up a script, you always arbitrate, because if you win, you make more money.'' (June 14)