They're Not Even Trying Anymore
I suppose hoping that Disney will stop producing cheap sequels to its animated classics is too much to ask for. I remember when it first began, with sequels to Aladdin, The Lion King, and Pocahontas. At first they were somewhat forgiveable -- Aladdin's sequels were merely extensions of its syndicated animated show; The Lion King II actually made some attempt at continuing the story in a new direction; and Pocahontas II was even daring enough to show the heroine choosing a new beau over living happily ever after with original hero John Smith.
Lately, however, Disney doesn't even try anymore. The new sequels have less reason to exist than ever before, saddled with simplistic plots, filled with totally forgettable songs, and rendered in animation that has less depth than the pictures in a coloring book. For The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, we are treated to the template storyline of Dreamworks's Shrek: Unattractive Person A meets Attractive Person B, Person B learns to love Person A, but Villain's scheme complicates a misunderstanding between Persons A and B, which is at last solved by learning to trust and look past the surfaces of others. The lesson is one that is worth repeating to kids, but otherwise this is just lazy writing. Even kids deserve better.
That practically the entire cast of the original Hunchback came back to perform the voicework for this sequel is a small reassurance, but what's the point of it if most of the characters are changed from their original, admirably developed selves into one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs who either exist for gags or for merely driving the plot? Add to that this movie's degeneration of one the original movie's standout features -- its exquisite artistry in recreating the Notre Dame cathedral -- and the only reason left to see Hunchback II is to hear Jennifer Love Hewitt sing. That, and to see the sight of what a bell looks like when it's jewel-encrusted -- on the inside.
©Jeffrey Chen, May 23, 2002
(Released by Walt Disney Studios and rated "G" for general audiences.)