The Hunchback of Notre Dame II is like your first hangover: no matter how many horror stories you hear about how unfathomably, almost comically despicable it is, and no matter how much you steel yourself up for such an irredeemably foul experience it's going to be, you simply cannot be ready for it and by the time you realise what's happening, you've already been curled up for five minutes, whimpering feebly and trying to make bargains with God that you'll give up everything you've ever loved if the pain will just go away. For a spell, I wondered if it was just my perhaps atypical affection for Disney's 1996 adaptation of Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame that was coloring my impressions, but the more I think about it: no, it's really that fucking bad. A happier, more innocent Tim Brayton was able to write just a week ago, regarding Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, "if it is not the nadir of the DTV sequels, it is surely close; also, if it is not the nadir, there are going to be some dark patches in the next couple of months." When I said "a dark patch", I had in mind something more like "oh, man, this bad movie isn't even fun, it's just a nightmarish slog" - Hunchback II is a dark patch more like the disoriented, puking howl of animal suffering that causes Trent Reznor to write "Hurt". Though it's not really a slog, at least; the credits start rolling before the 60-minute mark, so at least the contemptible thing is over quickly.

(One wonders, somewhat, if Disney felt this, and was ashamed of it: the film has a copyright date of 2000, but it didn't see release until 2002; and as the first - of many! - Disney sequels to have simply a numerical designation and no subtitle, it is therefore the first that as much as announces, "this is just a piece of product, sorry everybody").

One does not expect - if one is sane - a direct-to-video Disney sequel to reach the visual heights of the film which it follows, but Hunchback II still wastes no time in dumping cold water on all our dreams that we might be in for something decent. This, I will remind you, is the level of imagery that opened the first Hunchback:

And this is the equivalent moment in the sequel:

We're not just talking about the quality of the draftsmanship, though of course the difference there is profound. It's everything: the sense of scale and grandeur, the physicality, the straight-up visual drama of it. Hopefully you're not much of a fan of visual drama; it's in short supply in Hunchback II.

Some years after the first movie, hunchbacked bellringer Quasimodo (Tom Hulce; like pretty much every-goddamn-body, he's come back from the first movie, giving this dreadful hatched job an extraordinarily unfair and undeserved claim to legitimacy) is now a beloved member of medieval Parisian society, seemingly, and on terrific terms with his former crush, the gypsy Esmeralda (Demi Moore), and her husband, captain of the guard Phoebus (Kevin Kline), and their moppet of a son, Zephyr (Haley Joel Osment). Zephyr. Zephyr. That is his name, Zephyr. What the pustular throbbing cock kind of name is Zephyr? For years, I'd known that Osment played a character called Zephyr, and I assumed the movie was about Quasimodo befriending a little wind elemental hiding in the drafty old bell tower of Notre Dame de Paris. Which would have been so much better than the actual movie, which concerns the most popular holiday in France, Jour d'Amour, the day that everybody stands in the square before the cathedral and loudly pronounces their love for whomever, as the gorgeously jeweled bell La Fidèle is rung. Jeweled on the inside, you understand. Which I'm pretty close to certain would be a terrible idea, but I'm not a bell expert. Besides, how would we stuff a metaphor in there about how somethings are more beautiful inside than out without a giant jeweled bell? With a montage in which some things like collapsed soufflés and rosemary bushes that aren't terribly exciting to look at turn out to be wonderful in their own way? Because there's one of those, two.

Quasimodo is sad because he has no girlfriend, which is the cue for one to show up: Madellaine (Jennifer Love Hewitt), the assistant to corrupt, thieving circus owner, magician, and crook Sarousch (Michael McKean), an extravagantly vain bastard who is a failure of design and animation that I can hardly describe it. When he is primped and pretty, he is distasteful; when he is not, he's a crime against the medium.

Let's not lose the thread, though. Madellaine is tasked with infiltrating Notre Dame by flirting with Quasimodo, but the two kind of fall for each other anyway, and then complications happen, and Phoebus runs around accusing people of being thieves and puts a strain on his marriage despite the fact that every single bigoted accusation he makes turns out to be 100% true, and Zephyr is there to, I don't know, have a shitty name and give the extremely little kids who are the only people that might like this somebody to identify with.

Quick recap: the bad guy wants to steal a multi-ton cathedral bell, this gets in the way of a hunchback's love affair at the level of an '80s sitcom misunderstanding. What the actual living fuck.

Words fail. This is such a trivial, absurd reduction of the dramatic situations and characters arcs of Disney's great Hunchback - if I start contemplating what it does to Victor Hugo, I'll never be able to stop vomiting - that it's hard to imagine how they thought they could get away with it. "Quasimodo in love"; well, since the modus operandi of the Disney sequels is to do just exactly the same thing as the original, and since that would be quite impossible in the case of The Hunchback of Notre Dame ("egads, it's Justice Frollo's brother! And he is also a sexually frustrated religious autocrat who sees deformity as a sign of God's hatred!"), the best they could do was re-run the emotional B-plot, in which Quasi is sad because he thinks that pretty girls don't like ugly boys. A state which the current filmmakers can only fix by depriving Madellaine of any personality whatsoever; we do not have even the smallest inkling as to why she forms any opinion about Quasimodo whatsoever.

Forgive me, I cannot keep staring into the face of this movie, I need to plow through it and banish it from my mind forever, or at least until Disney's stupid policy of bundling all their theatrical releases and DTV sequels on one Blu-Ray obliges me to buy my very own copy. So let's skip over to the music next. Remember how Alan Menken's liturgy-influenced score and songs in the first movie were some of the most sophisticated, complex things ever put into an animated musicals? This is not what happens in Hunchback II, even though you'd think they could just use the exact same cues, which were owned by Disney, after all, and not Menken himself. The score is just boilerplate medievalism, and the songs...

The Randy Petersen/Kevin Quinn number "Le Jour d'Amour" is actually sort of tolerable, but the three songs written by Walter Edgar Kennon - who I imagine to be a fine man, with people in his life that love him, are excruciating and odious. Melodically, they're just flat nonsense; the lyrics, though, will take years off your life. Quasimodo's "I Want" song, "An Ordinary Miracle", consists of almost nothing but brutal assaults against the poetics of the English language. This-
"It's an ordinary miracle
The kind you find around you every single day
Or maybe it's just seasonal like spring and May"
-could almost pass muster in a really dry, cynical song - married to the tune, it's a passable knock-off of the kind of archly bitter comedy Sondheim was doing circa Company - but this is of course neither dry nor cynical, and that's about the best defence I can mount of a song that also includes howling misfires like
"Well, of course my view is slanted
But people do take love for granted."
or the cacophony of the rhyme I stole for this post title:
"That volcano of emotions
Not ten thousand gypsy-potions
Can undo."
Still and all, that's not even the low point of the score: that honor goes to the song "Fa La La La Fallen in Love", whose chief sin is its title, but... I mean, Christ wept, that title.

And now let's bustle over to the animation, and be done with it. The film is ugly and incompetent, full stop.

It was made by Disney's television animation studio in Japan, always the weakest of the three, but even so, it's a new low for those animators: Quasimodo, undoubtedly a complicated character to animate, goes off-model so often that it starts to seem a bit silly to even bring up the concept of a model sheet in the first place.

Forgive me! I should be providing no examples, not many examples, but it's just so alarmingly wretched, and deserves documenting for the reason that it would be otherwise hard to credit its very existence. So here's another one: we're meant to believe that these two people exist in the same phase of reality, that they are touching, and that it is tender.

Goddamn it, even the end credits are sinfully ugly, slathered as they are in a mixture of colors that suggests a ski jacket in 1986 more than a romantic musical dramedy set in 15th Century Paris, or anywhere that people have eyes which are capable of feeling pain.

If any of this has an upshot, it's that... well, I guess is that one day we'll all be dead, the sun will explode, and take with it every copy of Hunchback II that exists, thus saving the rest of the universe from its contamination. Unlike some other Disney sequels, its flaws are not primarily relative to how far it falls beneath its predecessor, or beneath the level of Disney animation generally, but relative to how mechanical and uninvolving its story is, and how indefensible its animation and design are, and how much the songs have made me feel less value for myself as a member of the species capable of writing them.

One last observation, and then I will run from this abomination as fast as I can go: in the first film, the sentient gargoyle Hugo (Jason Alexander) - and by the way, the sequel removes even the last whisper of doubt that they are sentient, magical gargoyles, not the hallucinations of a lonely mind - falls in love with the goat Djali; in the sequel, he continues to pursue the goat and eventually wins. Djali is a male goat, and thus this turns out to be the one unambiguous depiction of homosexuality in Disney. It's there in the original movie, of course, but I never noticed it until now, and having noticed it simply had to bring it up with the rest of you. Um, yay progressiveness.