Movies of 1996 Bracket Game: The Hunchback of Notre Dame Vs. The Birdcage
Due to the nature of this bracket game, the round two match-ups can feel a little random. Perhaps none more so than today’s. What do Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Birdcage have in common? They are both based on French source material. Hunchback obviously is based on Victor Hugo’s famous novel and Birdcage is a remake of the French farce, La Cage aux Folles. And while it may not be immediately apparent, both movies have similar themes. In The Birdcage a gay couple pretends to be straight to help their son fit into his fiancée’s family. In Hunchback, an outsider sings of his desire to be “Out there” which many have interpreted as having a homosexual subtext.
Admittedly a stretch, but you try finding commonalities between these two movies!
In yesterday’s oddball pairing, readers send Jerry Maguire packing in favor of the clever horror-comedy, Scream. So the meta slasher flick will face off against the alien invaders from Independence Day in the semi-finals.
So far in round two we have been concentrating on the directors. The directors we have covered so far have all been well-known. But when it comes to animated features, most people don’t think about the directors. Instead, people think about the animation studio that produced the movie. This goes back to the early days when Walt Disney took credit for everything. But animated movies do have directors just like live action movies do.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame actually had two of them. It was directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. The two directors had collaborated before on Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. That movie was the first-ever animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture by the Oscars. It lost to Silence of the Lambs, but just to be nominated was a huge accomplishment.
The nomination whetted the appetite of Disney’s then studio head, Jeffrey Katzenberg. He was convinced that if an animated feature could be nominated for Best Picture, then an animated feature could also win. He set his sights on finding the right project to accomplish this lofty goal. He finally decided on Hunchback. Like Beauty and the Beast, the story had French origins. Sure, it was dark. But Disney had a long history of sanitizing the source material of its movies.
Trousdale and Wise were chosen to direct because they were the only two directors in history to be nominated for Best Picture for an animated movie. The thinking was that if anyone could direct an animated Best Picture, it would be them. But very early in development, there were problems. Katzenberg was fired by his mentor, former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, and the studio was plunged into turmoil.
For a time, Hunchback was delayed. It was uncertain whether or not Disney would proceed with the project following Katzenberg’s departure. Eventually, the decision was made to move forward. According to the directors, while they missed Katzenberg’s involvement, they also enjoyed an unprecedented level of artistic freedom on Hunchback.
“We were given a lot more free rein on this and not having every single choice or decision second-guessed or questioned,” Trousdale said.
“Or beaten into the ground,” added Wise. “I really admired the fact that Jeffrey was relentless in trying to get us to constantly do better and challenge us to not necessarily settle for the first idea that came down the pike. I think we found ourselves challenging ourselves even more in terms of making sure that this was the best choice creatively on any decision, just by virtue of the fact that there wasn’t going to be someone in the executive ranks who we knew was going to be breathing down our necks and challenging us. We had to provide the challenge for ourselves.”
Unfortunately, Hunchback wasn’t nearly as successful as Disney had hoped. The directors collaborated once more on the Disney animated feature, Atlantis. After Atlantis bombed, Trousdale and Wise were broken up. Wise has continued to work with Disney, but hasn’t directed another movie in over a decade. Trousdale ended up joining Katzenberg at Dreamworks Animation. There, he has directed several TV specials involving Shrek and the Madagascar characters.
The Birdcage was directed by Mike Nichols. There is no way I can do justice to Nichols’ career within the parameters of one half of a bracket game write-up. In broad strokes, Nichols and Elaine May were a successful comedy team in the sixties. Nichols was also an accomplished theater director which paved the way for him to transition into film. He was nominated for Best Director for his first movie, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? He won Best Director for his second movie, The Graduate.
For decades, Nichols worked as a director alternating between stage and screen. He was nominated for Best Director both at the Tonys and the Oscars. Nochols received Oscar nominations for Silkwood and Working Girl. Additionally, Nichols racked up a Grammy, four Emmys, nine Tonys and a Peabody making him one of only two people to claim a PEGOT. The other is Barbra Streisand.
You could write a book about Mike Nichols, but we don’t have time for that. We’ve got a bracket game to vote on. So what’s it going to be? Disney’s bid for Best Picture or a remake of a French farce?
Posted on January 29, 2016, in Bracket Game, Movies and tagged Disney, Gary Trousdale, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Kirk Wise, Mike Nichols, The Birdcage, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.