Tag Archives: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

By the book: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

To say it upfront: Between Victor Hugo’s two “big” novels, I tend to gravitate more towards Les Misérables, mainly because Notre Dame de Paris is downright depressing. Oh, both books delve deep into the social injustices of their time and the darkness of the human soul. But I think that Les Misérables is the more sophisticated take of those two, much clearer in the message it is trying to tell with much more relatable characters in it. Notre Dame de Paris is from a literature historic angle the more important one though, because it is considered the first novel about the society as a whole, including different classes, instead of concentrating on only the rich or only the poor. That Disney even tried a take on it is somewhat surprising, because Disney movies are not about social but about personal problems. When Disney does Dickens it’s never about the social aspect and always about the fate of main character of the story. But Dickens’ stories usually have some sort of happy end which plays well into the fairy-tale-like family- friendly storytelling Disney likes so much. Notre Dame de Paris has none of those elements, it is a very disturbing book made for adults. So, does Disney’s watered down version work?

1. The Setting

You might have noticed that I used so far the original French title for The Hunchback of Notre Dame. That was intentional, because the translated title is very misleading. It’s not the Hunchback who is the main character of the story, it’s Notre Dame. Most of the book is set there and a lot of time is spend on the description of Notre Dame itself. And the Disney version? Well, there Notre Dame is prominent, too. The most memorable parts of the movie feature the cathedral and the scales are very impressive. The difference is that Disney shows off the beauty of Notre Dame, while Hugo’s intention was to point out that this great building was neglected and slowly falling to ruins. The state of Notre Dame reflects the state of society.

I’m not too bothered by the change, though. The audience and the intention of the movie is entirely different from the book. A close adaption would try to stick to those kinds of details, but I think that a good adaption should try to be relevant. And for a modern audience it makes more sense to appreciate the beauty of what survived the decades (I guess Victor Hugo would be very pleased to know that his book made sure that Notre Dame is nowadays one of the most well-known places in Paris).

2. The Animation

Would you be surprised if I told you that Notre Dame is actually not that big of a church? The two big towers are only 69 metres high. Nor are there any steps leading up to the entrance. What is real, though, are the gargoyles, the giant rosette window and the bells. But I don’t mind it that Disney exaggerated a little bit, I put this down to artistic licence. What is truly important is not how realistic the church and Paris itself is, but if the portrayal works for the movie, and it certainly does. Nearly all Disney movies are visually impressive, but this one is especially memorable.

3. The Characters

The great thing about the original book is that none of the characters are totally good or totally evil. The one who comes the closest of being an “innocent” is Esmeralda, who is somewhat (to borrow a line of another Disney movie) a diamond (or Emerald) in the rough. The Disney version is somewhat clearer cut – therefore the characters end up being very, very different.

Disney Quasimodo: More or less imprisoned at Notre Dame he dreams of leaving the place. He is kind-hearted and doesn’t do a single bad thing during the movie. Original Quasimodo: Not only ugly but also practically deaf and nearly unable to speak he chooses not to venture out of Notre Dame very often. He tries to kidnap Esmeralda for Frollo, but later, after she showed some kindness towards him out of pity, he does his very best to defend her, killing a couple of people in the process, including gypsies who are actually there to rescue her. He eventually murders Frollo when he laughs about Esmeralda’s death by throwing him from the cathedral. And then dies of starvation next to her body.

34 FrolloDisney Claude Frollo: A judge who uses his power over Paris mostly in a crusade against the Gypsies. After he accidentally kills a woman, the archdeacon orders him to take care of her ugly child as penance. He gives the child the “cruel name” Quasimodo and hides him in the tower. When he falls for Esmeralda, he slowly descends into madness, burning half Paris and eventually trying to burn her. Original Claude Frollo: The archdeacon, who takes care of an abandoned Quasimodo out of compassion and named him after the day on which he was found. He also cares deeply for his spoiled younger brother (who gets later accidentally killed by Quasimodo). Despite being a man of the church he dabbles in alchemy and is therefore mistrusted by the people of Paris. When he falls for Esmeralda, he falls into sin, first by trying to kidnap her, later by offering her escape in exchange for being with her when the king orders to ignore the sanctuary of Notre Dame. Oh, and he tries to rape her, and lets her take the fall for the murder of Phoebus.

Disney Esmeralda: A gypsy and free spirit, who openly challenges the authority of Frollo. She is able to see through Quasimodo’s misshapen face, seeing the beauty of his soul. But she is not in love with him, instead she falls for the heroic Phoebus. Original Esmeralda: As a child she was kidnapped by the gypsies who left her mother Quasimodo in her place. Her beauty causes more or less every man she meets to fall for her. She once gives Quasimodo water and rescues his life when he is punished for the kidnapping attempt of her. But this is only an act of pity, she is repulsed by him the same way as everyone else until she spends some time with him in the cathedral. Later she marries a poet (who is originally interested in her, but later more obsessed about her goat – and no, I’m not making that up) in order to rescue his life after he discovers the court of miracles. She never lays with him, though, because she is convinced that staying chaste is important in order to find her real mother (which she does, shortly before her death). The only man who nearly manages to convince her of laying with him his Phoebus. She is impressed by him due to his beauty and because he rescued her when Quasimodo first tried to kidnap her. But their “night of passion” is interrupted by Frollo who stabs Phoebus in the back. Esmeralda is accused of his murder (and of being a witch) and killed.

Disney Phoebus: The hero. And that’s more or less all you need to know about him. Oh, and that he is in love with Esmeralda, who rescues him from drowning after he rescued some people from getting burned by Frollo, getting hit by an arrow in his back in the process. Original Phoebus: An egocentric womanizer whose main interest is to bed Esmeralda, despite the fact that he is already betrothed. He actually survives Frollo’s attack on him, but nevertheless doesn’t step forward to defend Esmeralda. Instead he lives unhappy ever after in the cage of marriage.

Disney Clopin: Some sort of king of the gypsies, who is sometimes the narrator of the movie. He once intends to kill Quasimodo and Phoebus for finding the court of miracles. But he also speaks up on Quasimodo’s behalf…eh…this character really doesn’t make much sense, he switches from bad to good and back in seconds. Original Clopin: First introduced as a beggar he is later revealed to be the king of the gypsies. He has never much contact with either Quasimodo or Phoebus, the episode in the Court of Miracles involves the Poet Gringoire instead. Towards the end of the book he is killed by molten lead when he leads an attack on Notre Dame in order to rescue Esmeralda.

4. The Plot

After the rundown it should be pretty clear that the story of the movie is only vaguely related to the original. The animators mostly took elements they liked and created a new story out of it. Therefore, I won’t bother to discuss if this is a faithful adaptation of the book. It naturally isn’t. The real question is if the newly created plot works and if the movie at least manages to address some aspects of the book.

Disney followed the misleading English title and tried to make Quasimodo the main character. Therefore there are storylines which got rewritten for the movie in order to include him, most notable the scene in the Court of Miracles. But what Disney didn’t manage to do is to make him an interesting character. The original Quasimodo is in appearance as close to a monster as a human can be, and not just because of his looks, but also because he has trouble to communicate. Frollo is more or less his only human contact until he meets Esmeralda. He is also a character who means well, but rarely acts well – which is a contrast to most of the other characters in the book, who often are able to sell even the most selfish acts as good to the other characters.

Disney’s version of Quasimodo is, to be frank, quite bland, mostly because they changed his relationship to Frollo and society in general. This Quasimodo doesn’t feel shunned by society, but mostly removed from it. Everything Quasimodo does is about finding a way to connect to the word outside, but since he lacks any experience with it prior to the movie, his isolation seems to be more Frollo’s doing than based on how society tends to react to people who look different. And if you take Quasimodo’s desire away, what is actually left of the character? Quasimodo is basically the ugly duckling, which never becomes a swan. And we tend to feel for the ugly duckling. But if Quasimodo weren’t such a suffering character, would he actually be likable? Being all naïve and wide-eyed? I’m not sure.

Quasimodo’s view on the world is very convoluted. Does he love the cathedral, hate it or a little bit of both? Does he want to leave it for good, does he want to see the world outside or does he mostly want human companionship? Well, he has the companionship of his gargoyles. Yeah, the gargoyles. I didn’t mention them beforehand because they are more or less solely Disney’s creation. A lot of people have stated the opinion that they ruin the mood of the movie and shouldn’t be there in the first place. I agree and disagree.

34 hunchback-gargoyles-webI agree that their kind of humour (mostly modern jokes) doesn’t fit into the movie. But I don’t think that the gargoyles alone are the problem, they are just the worst offenders. This is the movie which put the goofy yell on a scene in which someone falls into an inferno of flames. A freaking goofy yell. I can’t imagine anything more unfitting. It’s like the makers were worried that the movie might become too dark so they threw in as many unfunny jokes as possible to make up for it.

I also agree that the gargoyles as comic relief don’t work. But I also think that the basic idea for them wasn’t bad. Quasimodo spends a lot of time alone, so having the gargoyles as sounding board is a very good solution. An even better solution would have been, if they were presentations of Quasimodo’s psyche. A couple of times during the movie it is suggested that the Gargoyles are not real. This goes out of the window in the final scene, when the Gargoyles intervene in the battle. But if they had stick to the idea and had made the Gargoyles representations of different aspects of Quasimodo’s mind (for example Victor stands for the rational site which keeps saying that nobody will like him, while Hugo (a less silly one) stands for his emotions and his wish to try nevertheless), arguing with each other instead of with him, this could have turned him into a more rounded and interesting character.

Esmeralda and Phoebus are not that interesting either. Oh, Esmeralda is an improvement from the book in being fiercer, and she got some of the best scenes in the movie. Especially the “God help the outcast” scene. Seeing Esmeralda, someone who doesn’t own much and isn’t even a Christ asks for the less lucky ones, while in the background the “true believers” voice their egoistical and shallow wishes, creates a contrast which prompts the audience to think about religion and morals, without being judgmental or preachy. And personally, I think the movie would have been much more interesting if they had made Esmeralda a secondary lead and had taken the time to flesh her out a little bit more.

The main problem with Esmeralda is that she is mostly reduced to her love story, which is very generic. Though the fault lays more with Phoebus than with her, since he is very badly explained in his motivations. One minute he is the obedient soldier who will follow everything Frollo says, next he turns around and does whatever he wants. Which could be an interesting story-line if he were either a soldier who believes in obedience but is eventually swayed by Esmeralda and the level of cruelty Frollo displays, or if he were from the get go someone who doesn’t think highly of authority and only wants a cushy assignment to get away from the war. Any motivation which would require some character development on his part would be more interesting than him just doing what the plot requires of him to do.

But let’s talk about the best character in this movie: Frollo. One of the greatest Disney villain, mostly because he has one of the most interesting motivations and perhaps the best villain song to go with it. Hellfire can’t be praised enough for putting his decent into madness into memorable lyrics and stunning visuals. There is a tiny problem with it though, since Frollo isn’t the archdeacon but a judge, there is actually no reason why he shouldn’t be interested in a woman, he isn’t bound by a vow of chastity after all. But I guess that can be explained away with him thinking of himself as above such feelings, especially when they are related to a gypsy of all people.

But, in a strange twist, everything which makes this character so good works to the disadvantage of the movie as a whole. Because Frollo is a bastard from the start, his feelings for Esmeralda are not really the downfall of his soul, they only lead to revealing a new level of darkness. And because he is the one who hides Quasimodo (in a way a symbol for him hiding his “sins” from the world), he basically stands between him and society. But the idea that society is shunning Quasimodo doesn’t have much a merit when it mostly happens because of Frollo’s actions, and not because society is the way it is.

Which brings us to the real problem of the plot: society. Nothing the “people of Paris” do makes any sense. They have the feast of fools (even though Gypsies are prosecuted they apparently allowed to come out of hiding for this one – weird…..), and they act with fear when they realize that Quasimodo left his tower. Fair enough. Who knows what horrifying stories are told about him (though it would be great to learn what they think about him at one point, the only story which we do see told about him paints him as a victim, after all). But following Clopin’s lead they start to celebrate him. Still understandable, the first shock is over and apparently Quasimodo is no danger. And then they suddenly turn on him…why? He has done nothing, why should they throw anything at him? And later on, where exactly are all those people when Frollo starts to burn down Paris? But when he starts to attack Notre Dame, they are suddenly all for helping Phoebus because a cathedral is naturally more important than their own homes?

This movie should be,about the relation between the Hunchback and society, and that’s what the animators are intended to do. But because the actual story focusses so much on Frollo and the other main characters, the relation between Quasimodo and society becomes an afterthought most of the time.

5. The Music

It should be obvious at this point that I adore the soundtrack of Hunchback of Notre Dame…well, most of it. I really can do without “A guy like you”. But overall he soundtrack is the main reason for me to watch the movie. I especially love how the sound of the bells are integrated in music, most notable in “The Bells of Notre Dame”. But my favourite songs are “Hellfire” (English version) and “God save the outcasts” (German version). Those are songs about deep emotions which manage to transport a lot of feeling.

6. The Conclusion

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a very flawed movie, which has a lot of very good aspects which sadly don’t go together very well and are overshadowed by silliness. Some consider it Disney darkest entry. I disagree. It might seem that way because in recent year Disney has become fairly sugary. But if you look back to the classics, you’ll find that Disney can do dark. In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, it’s just not done very well. Mostly because the animators couldn’t decide on one tone for the movie. You can either do Pinocchio or Aladdin, but you can’t do both at once, you have to pick one style and stick to it. It seems like the animators were worried that making it too dark would make it too adult. I don’t think that one necessarily causes the other. You could have told this story in a serious way without it being utterly unsuitable for children as long as you made sure that you put the story in terms they understand.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of those Disney Movies which don’t have much to offer in terms of storytelling, but excel in animation and music. The big scenes  are really gigantic and always worth a watch. Though I admit, I tend to watch it this way: I rewind the “Bells of Notre Dame” three or four times, because it’s so good, then I press the fast forward button, with a few interruption for a couple Frollo bastardy and Esmeralda dancing scenes, until I reach “God help the outcast”. I switch to German for this song (because there it’s more sung like a prayer), go back to English and again fast forward to the hellfire scene. Then I skip (no, not fast forward, I skip so that I don’t have to see any part of “A guy like you”) to the Court of Miracles and from this point onward I watch the rest of the movie.

And that sums up the movie pretty well: A lot of good but with too much bad mixed in to work out as a whole. But, to be honest, considering the source text and how unsuitable it is for a Disney movie, this can be considered an okay effort.


The Introduction Song

To put it blunt, an Introduction song is used to set the mood for the movie and, if necessary, to give the audience important background information. It is often (but not always) the first piece of music we hear in a movie.

Like the “Villain Song”, this is a concept which developed over time, mostly because movies used to be structured differently than they nowadays. In the past a lot of movies had opening credits, since it was not common to list all the cast members and whoever else was involved in the production. This changed around the 1970s (more or less…fun fact: Disney’s Fantasia (1940) was the first sound film which started without any opening credits), when it became more common to acknowledge the staff. Soon movies had extensive end credits and only mentioned the most important persons during the opening…if at all.

When opening credits were still common, title melodies or songs were too. And they were often used as mood setter, already, so the movie maker had to find a balance. Often this was done by starting the movie with a narrator. For example Cinderella’s title song is beautiful, but not particularly informative, so the narrator takes care of providing the background information needed. Peter Pan on the other hand has a title song which immediately informs the audience about Neverland, so the narrator only has to introduce the Darlings. In “Sword in the Stone” on the other hand the title melody bridges to an introduction song, telling the story of the death king and then a narrator takes over – kind of overkill, if you think about it.

Getting rid of the opening credits “freed” the introduction song. There was no longer the need to balance it out with opening credits, instead the animators could go all out – and they did very impressively with movies like “Lion King”, which has one of the best known opening in movie history. But I think the song which shows the best what a good introduction song can do, is “Belles of Notre Dame”.

Clopin:
Morning in Paris,
the city awakes
to the bells of Notre Dame
The fisherman fishes
The bakerman bakes
to the bells of Notre Dame

To the big bells as loud as the thunder
To the little bells soft as a psalm
And some say the soul of
the city’s the toll the bells
the bells of Notre Dame

This part of the song is a mood setter. We get a feeling for Paris, and for the giant clock tower (which is btw not THAT big in real life…the animators went a little bit overboard with the scales, but then, that was kind of the point, I guess) with it’s bells. It follows a sequence of kind of narration which leads to the next part of the song (I cut out the text from the scenes so that we can concentrate on the part which is sung).

Dark was the night when our tale was begun
On the docks near Notre Dame

Four frightened gypsies slid silently under
the docks near Notre Dame

But a trap had been laid for the gypsies
And they gazed up in fear and alarm
At a figure who’s clutches
Were iron as much as the bells….
The bells of Notre Dame

Choir:
Kyrie Eleison (translation: Lord Have Mercy)

Clopin:
Judge Claude Frollo longed to purge the world
Of vice and sin
And he saw corruption every where
Except within

We know get a lot of background story, and our first glimpse of the villain of the movie – who is immediately sketched out in four lines. We know what he wants and we know around which trait (hypocrisy) his character is built.  In the following sequence the change between showing what happened in the past and the song is so fluid that they nearly become one. This is underlined by the fact that not only the actual narrator is singing, the Arch Deacon does too. Past and present melt into each other for a moment.

Clopin:
She ran.

Choir:
Dies irae, dies illa (Day of wrath, that day)
Solvet saeclum in favilla (Shall consume the world in ashes)
Teste David cum sibylla (As prophesied by David and the sibyl)
Quantus tremor est futurus (What trembling is to be)
Quando Judex est venturus (When the Judge is come)

Gypsie Mother:
Sanctuary!
Please give us sanctuary!

Frollo:
A baby…
A monster!

Arch Deacon:
Stop!

Clopin:
Cried the Arch Deacon.

Frollo:
This is an unholy demon
I’m sending it back to hell
Where it belongs

Arch Deacon:
See there the innocent blood you have spilt
On the steps of Notre Dame

Frollo:
I am guiltless
She ran,
I pursued

Arch Deacon:
Now you would add this child’s blood to your guilt
On the steps of Notre Dame

Frollo:
My concience is clear!

Arch Deacon:
You can lie to yourself and your minions
You can claim that you haven’t a qualm
But you never can run from nor hide what you’ve done
From the eyes
The very eyes of Notre Dame

Choir:
Kyrie Eleison

Clopin:
And for one time in his life
Of power and control

Choir:
Kyrie Eleison

Clopin:
Frollo felt a twinge of fear
For his immortal soul

Frollo:
What must do?

Arch Deacon:
Care for the child
And raise it as your own

Frollo:
What?
I am to be saddled with this misshapen…
Very well,
But let him live with you in your church

Arch Deacon:
Live here?
But Where?

Frollo:
Anywhere

Just so he’s kept locked away where no one else can see

The bell tower perhaps
And who knows?
Our Lord works in mysterious ways

Even this foul creature may yet prove one day to be
Of use to me

Clopin:
And Frollo gave the child a cruel name
A name that means “half-formed”
Quasimodo

At this point, the audience is pulled back in the present.

“Now here is a riddle to guess if you can,”
Sing the bells of Notre Dame
“Who is the monster and who is the man?”
Sing the bells, bells, bells, bells
Bells, bells, bells, bells
Bells of Notre Dame

To round up a perfect introduction song,  the audience even learns the core question of the movie – though it is a rhetorical one. At this point, it is  already primed to like Quasimodo, no matter how he looks.

The Belles of Notre Dame is a great song with it’s cacophony of bells, and the way the music swells, nearly pressing you in the seat if you watch the movie in a well equipped theatre with a good sound system. But it is also great because it does everything an introduction song can do: Setting the mood, providing important information and pointing out the core theme of the movie.


The Villain Song

Unlike the “I want” song and the love song, the villain song hasn’t really been a stable of the movies before the Disney Renaissance. For two reasons. One, a lot of the early Disney movies didn’t even have a proper villain, but instead a string of antagonists or a more abstract kind of evil. And two, in the early days Disney preferred the more menacing villains less flamboyant. It is hart to imagine the Evil Queen or Maleficent prancing around, singing about the devil deeds they plan to do. Or the Coachman doing a little jig with his donkeys.

blog-pic-villains1

Only two of those sing more than one line

If one examines the villain songs up to the late 1980s, one can see how the concept developed – as well as the concept of a Disney Villain. In the golden era, the Evil Queen is the only “true” Disney villain featured – meaning a villain who is pinned specifically against the protagonist. All the other movies either use a more abstract as villain like “Man” (Bambi) or the society in general (Dumbo), or they have multiple character’s which serve as antogonist’s but are not pinned against the protagonist specifically (Pinocchio). Sine the Evil Queen doesn’t sing, Fowlfellow’s “Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee” is the sole villain song from the era – if you can call it that. It’s more about convincing Pinoccio of something than about Fowlfellow himself, and it is more a fun than a menacing song.

In the silver era, the time of some of the best known Disney Villain’s started. Cinderella’s stepmother, the Queen of Hearts, Captain Hook, and Maleficent are all from this time. But they only have two songs between them, “Painting the Roses Red” and “The Elegant Captain Hook”. There is one notable aspect about those: They are sung by the minions (mostly, Captain Hook has like two lines in his own song). “Painting the Roses Red” serves mostly as an introduction for the Queen of Heart, and “The Elegant Captain Hook” is yet another one of those fun songs in which the villain tries to convince his victims of something.

The first villain with a really menacing song is Cruella de Ville – but again, she is not the one singing. She is in fact not even present when Roger launches in a over-the-top description of her (which ends in laughter).  Madam Mim is the first villain since Fowlfellow who gets a whole song for herself, but it is not particularly menacing. If anything her desire to like everything bad in the word is amusing. I guess Kaa’s “Trust in me” counts as a villain song, but while the hypnotic tone sounds creepy, the scenes in itself are played for fun. Prince John’s “The Phony King of England” even ridicules the villain of the movie. All in all, during Disney’s dark era a villain who sings is not one we take serious. At least until Rattigan turns up on screen.

“The worlds greatest criminal mind” is the first villain song which is:

1. Sung by the villain
2. Menacing
3. in a scene which not played for laughs

Not that it isn’t delightful to see him prance through the room, but the scene as a whole mostly serves to demonstrate how dangerous he is (after all he kills one if his henchmen in-between). And his second song “Goodbye, so long” is even played while the hero himself is stuck in a deadly trap.

But the song which made the villain song a Disney stable was “Poor unfortunate Souls”. Even though Ursula pretends to offer Ariel a reasonable deal, for the audience it is obvious how manipulative and dangerous she truly is. It’s clearly Ashman’s and Menken’s musical experiences which come into play there. And the success of this song prompted Disney to stick to this concept during the 1990s. “Gaston”, “Be Prepared”, “Mine, mine, mine”, nearly every movie from this point onward had a Villain Song (or had one planned which wasn’t used after all). During the late Disney Renaissance Disney tried to shake up things a little bit, though, and the use of the villain song (or songs at all) became a rarity again and is nowadays mostly linked to the Disney Princess Movies (PatF had “Friends on the other side” and Tangled “Mother knows Best”).

The Song though which is the pinnacle of all the Villain Songs is Frollo’s “Hellfire”, and not just because of the impressive music and the use of a Latin speaking chorus. It is a song which allows the audience to delve deep into the psyche of a villain.

“Beata Maria
You know I am a righteous man
Of my virtue I am justly proud”

claims Frollo, but the audience already knows that he is mostly blind to his own sins – the biggest being vanity and self-righteous judgment, which he reveals yet again.

“Beata Maria
You know I’m so much purer than
The common, vulgar, weak, licentious crowd”

The song illustrates how Frollo fights with what he perceives as temptation.
“Then tell me, Maria
Why I see her dancing there
Why her smold’ring eyes still scorch my soul”

I feel her, I see her
The sun caught in raven hair
Is blazing in me out of all control

Like fire
Hellfire
This fire in my skin
This burning
Desire
Is turning me to sin

For a short moment it seems like Frollo, for the second time in his life (the first one was after he killed Quasimodo’s mother) fears for his soul…but it’s immediately turned around:

“It’s not my fault
I’m not to blame
It is the gypsy girl
The witch who sent this flame
It’s not my fault
If in God’s plan
He made the devil so much
Stronger than a man

His own guilt is immediately forced away, to Esmeralda (who is clearly the victim in this scenario) and even to God himself. If he allows such a temptation to exist, so Frollo’s crazy reasoning, if he allows devil to wander on earth, it is not his fault that he can’t resist. In he final conclusion he claims that either Esmeralda has to die or to be his and his alone.

Protect me, Maria
Don’t let this siren cast her spell
Don’t let her fire sear my flesh and bone
Destroy Esmeralda
And let her taste the fires of hell
Or else let her be mine and mine alone
Hellfire
Dark fire
Now gypsy, it’s your turn
Choose me or
Your pyre
Be mine or you will burn

God have mercy on her

God have mercy on me

But she will be mine
Or she will burn!  

This song is a disturbing look into the mind of a villain, and the most creepy part of it is the fact that Frollo refuses to see himself as a villain. As fanatic as he is he honestly believes that he is at his core a good man, even though he knows that he will succumb to temptation and do something so deeply wrong. He doesn’t even understand that the “wrongness” in his desire lays not in the fact that Esmeralda is a Gypsy, but in his own obsession.

And this is exactly what a villain should do. It should show cast the character of a villain, his deepest desires but at the same time, it shouldn’t slow the movie down but be relevant to the plot. In this case it is relevant because that’s the point from which onward Frollo looses every bit of inhibition.

Thus said though – I don’t think that a movie necessarily needs a villain song. It is a good addition, but a creepy score works just as well – depending on which kind of villain you want to create. Shan Yu was certainly better off without one. But I can’t help wondering if some of the post renaissance villains would have been more memorable if they had been allowed to express themselves in song.