Disney’s underrated take on The Hunchback of Notre Dame turns 25 this month, but he doesn’t look a day over 20! In honor of the film’s anniversary, /Film’s Josh Spiegel compiled an exhaustive oral history of the animated musical and learned some interesting details in the process, including the confirmation that several different voice actors were considered for major roles, including Anthony Hopkins, David Letterman, Cyndi Lauper, and more.
When it comes to the Disney Renaissance, it often seems like The Hunchback of Notre Dame gets the short end of the stick. But it’s a wonderful movie with great songs and even better animation, and it’s turning 25 this month. Which gives us an excuse to talk about it, and to talk about behind-the-scenes details that have either been lost to time, or never really spoke of before. So let’s talk about casting, shall we?
Anthony Hopkins as Frollo
The late, great Tony Jay provided the voice for Frollo in Hunchback, and he did a damn good job. His deep, rumbly voice is immediately attention-grabbing, and lends itself wonderfully to his big musical number “Hellfire.” But in an alternate universe, it’s not Jay voicing Frollo – it’s Anthony Hopkins.
“Early on, they wanted Anthony Hopkins to do the voice [of Frollo],” said Kathy Zielinski, the supervising animator for Frollo. “[We] did an animation test with a line of his from Silence of the Lambs.”
“We were thinking of Hannibal Lecter in the earliest iterations of Frollo,” added director Kirk Wise. “They made an offer, but Hopkins passed. We came full circle to Tony, because it had been such a good experience working with him on Beauty and the Beast. It was the combination of the quality of his voice, the familiarity of working with him, and knowing how professional and sharp he was.”
Anthony Hopkins is a great actor, and I’m sure he would’ve made a good Frollo. But in the end I’m glad things worked out the way they did, because Tony Jay’s performance rules.
Letterman, Leno, Arsenio, Cher, and, uh…Meat Loaf
When it came to casting The Hunchback of Notre Dame, director Kirk Wise said that “Everybody auditioned, with the exception of Kevin Kline and Demi Moore.” Kline voices the heroic Captain Phoebus while Moore plays Esmeralda. However, even though Moore didn’t have to audition, she wasn’t everyone’s ideal choice. Disney’s then-studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg reportedly wanted Cher to voice Esmeralda – and he also wanted Meat Loaf to play Quasimodo.
“Katzenberg saw Meat Loaf and Cher playing Quasimodo and Esmeralda – more of a rock opera,” said Will Finn, head of story/supervising animator. And Katzenberg’s ideas didn’t stop there. When it came to casting the three gargoyles that serve as Quasimodo’s only friends, Katzenberg wanted to bring in a trio of late-night hosts – Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Arsenio Hall.
It doesn’t seem like a serious offer was made to the late night trio, but Meat Loaf actually worked with the production for a while. “Meat Loaf sat with [composer] Alan [Menken] and rehearsed the song,” said director Kirk Wise. “It was very different than what we ended up with, because Meat Loaf has a very distinct sound. Ultimately, I think his record company and Disney couldn’t play nice together, and the deal fell apart.”
Roy Disney: Not A Fan Of Cyndi Lauper
In the final film, the gargoyles that were almost voiced by Leno, Letterman, and Arsenio ended up with the voice talents of Charles Kimbrough, Jason Alexander, and Mary Wickes. But even that casting couldn’t gone differently. At one point, Cyndi Lauper and Sam McMurray were cast as two of the gargoyles and even recorded dialogue – but Roy Disney, who was Walt Disney Feature Animation Chairman at the time, was not a fan.
“We cast Cyndi Lauper as one of the gargoyles,” said Kirk Wise. “We thought she was hilarious and sweet. The little fat obnoxious gargoyle had a different name, and was going to be played by Sam McMurray. We had Cyndi and Sam record, and Roy Disney hated it. The quality of Cyndi’s voice and Sam’s voice were extremely grating to his ear. This is no disrespect to them – Cyndi Lauper is amazing. And Sam McMurray is very funny. But it was not working for the people in the room on that day.”
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