While the early Disney artists are usually credited for venturing into the darker side of creativity, the later artists -- particularly those of the so-called Disney Renaissance (1989-1999) -- also deserve such credit. Case in point: the astonishing introduction to the Disney feature, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), featuring the dramatic song “The Bells of Notre Dame.” Though the hunchback himself, Quasimodo, is reimagined as a much more sympathetic protagonist than originally depicted by writer Victor Hugo, the film is filled with dark scenes that arguably match similar efforts by the earlier Disney artists. The film’s introduction not only presents viewers with the tragic origin story of Quasimodo, it also very effectively introduces the film’s villain, Judge Claude Frollo, who “saw corruption everywhere except within.” There’s nothing humorous or “cute and fluffy” about this intro.
The intro is narrated/sung by the character Clopin, King of the Gypsies, voiced by Broadway actor and singer Paul Kandel. Other voices include Tony Jay as Frollo and David Ogden Stiers as the Archdeacon. David Ogden Stiers is notable in Disney history for voicing characters and narratives for several of its traditionally-animated feature films, making him sort of a Disney “voice mascot,” much the way John Ratzenberger is for Pixar. The music is by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz.
In 1999, the film was adapted as a stage musical, Der Glöckner von Notre Dame, which follows an even darker tone, overall, than the film. It opened at the Musical Theatre Berlin (in Berlin, Germany) and ran through 2002. It’s one of Berlin's longest-running musicals to date.