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Children Seem Unfazed by 'Hunchback' Themes

Movies: Despite critics' warnings, youngsters flock to the Disney film and view it at varying levels.

June 24, 1996|ROBIN RAUZI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

You can't please all of the parents all of the time. But Disney sure as heck comes close.

The studio's latest animated feature, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," opened Friday, so you could bet that by matinee time Saturday, parents were lining up at theaters, tykes in tow. Sure, critics had warned that the film is the most "adult" of Disney's animated offerings, and they pointed out the lustful nature of several main characters. But that was weak ammunition against kids fortified with TV ads and fast-food toys.

"The advertising that Disney does," remarked Adele Curcuruto of Burbank, who brought her 4-year-old daughter Jordan to see the movie. "She's been asking for it for a month. We couldn't not go."

Lots of parents at AMC's Burbank North 6 apparently felt the same way. The audience was about half children, peering over the high-backed seats at Quasimoto, his beloved Esmeralda and her beloved Capt. Phoebus. Not one cried aloud when the villain, Frollo, writhed through the nightmarish song "Hellfire," nor after it when he set about torching half of Paris.

Curcuruto got the feeling that her daughter didn't understand some of the story's complexities: Frollo's genocidal tendencies, Quasimoto's brutal humiliation. After all, Mom was the one in tears at the end. But when Curcuruto started talking about how voluptuous Esmeralda was, it became clear that her daughter had picked up something.

" 'What a woman!' " exclaimed Jordan, mimicking the comment Capt. Phoebus makes after his first encounter with Esmeralda. Well, reasoned Curcuruto, it's no worse than anything they might see on TV.

Patty DeGrazzio, who came with the Curcurutos, wished her daughter Alexandra, 4, had been a little older before seeing "Hunchback." But other Disney films, like "The Lion King," had frightening moments too, she said. The girls simply said they liked the movie. No harm done then? "We won't know until they're 21 and in therapy," said Curcuruto, laughing.

Kahrim Sarti's two older sons--Chris, 6, and Joey, 5--denied being scared in "Hunchback." But it may be too soon to tell. After seeing "The Lion King" two summers ago, the boys worried that something might happen to their father the way it had to the father of lion cub Simba. "They still talk about that," said Sarti.

For Bill and Gayle Myers of Glendale, more important than any individual character was the message that "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" left with their three children. For example, 10-year-old Ashley Myers said she found a strong spiritual element in the film, where the cathedral represents sanctuary for the persecuted. "They made it so there was a lot of God in it," Ashley said. "In some movies, they try to cover up God."

The movie's moral--that one should judge a person by what's on the inside, not the outside--was something that came through clearly to Ashley and her sister Laurel, 7. (Two-year-old Zachary just sort of stared at the colors.) "It's hard to find movies that we don't have to talk through and show them all the sides," said Gayle Myers. "The message was one that I would want my kids to see."

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