During the Disney Renaissance, the period between 1989 and 1999 where Walt Disney Animation Studios created some of its most successful animated films that reinvigorated interest in the Disney studio, there were a couple of films that were darker than the average Disney animated film due to heavier subject matter featured in those said films. Take for example the 1996 film “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, which saw several production troubles due to it’s darker tone.
Due to the heavy subject matter, there were many issues that proved contentious between the creative team and the studio with one of the main ones revolving around the “profession and motivation” of Claude Frollo (Voiced by Tony Jay), the villain. See in the original text written by Victor Huge from which the film was based on, Frollo was a church official/archdeacon of the Notre Dame cathedral. However, in the film version, he was turned into a judge/a secular government official, whose preoccupation with the gypsy lay in his view of them as “agents of moral decay”. This was opposed to Frollo, in the original text, seeing them as deviants of the Church.
In “The Gospel According to Disney” it is stated that, “Disney executives would have no part of Hugo’s intent to criticize the church and its leaders for their failure to defend the poor and the powerless” as well as finding it, as they put it, “too controversial”. So, in an effort to be as faithful to the text as possible, as “The Gospel According to Disney” as states, “the animators did their best to subvert this order from above”. They did this by using his visual design to show he was a priest.
When “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” was released, Entertainment Weekly magazine, which gave the film an A in their review, noted “When it was announced that Disney would produce an animated musical version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, there were doubts, even jokes, about transforming Victor Hugo’s classic tale, with its famously misshapen hero, into a crowd-pleaser for kids.” Those doubts, it seems, were unfounded and the film went on to carry the powerful messages of the original text for the most part. This perfect handling of such heavy subject matter is a perfect example of why the Disney Renaissance was such a flourishing period for Walt Disney Animation Studios. It seems, during that period, Walt Disney Animation Studios was unstoppable.