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Hey, you know what I love? Long, angry flame wars. By which I mean, I do not love those. At all. I bring this up because…while I know that I don’t have anything to worry about (the followers of this blog were, after all, recently voted Nicest Commentariat on the Internet)…
There was a whole ceremony and an award presented by Tom Hanks and a crazy party after…did I forget to tell you guys?
…but nonetheless I’m a little nervous going into this review. Hunchback
, man. People feel…”strongly” about Hunchback
. There are those who will loudly and passionately proclaim this to be the unacknowledged masterpiece of the Renaissance, the best thing Disney ever did. And then there are the Hugo loyalists, who think that the movie is an absolute disgrace to the source material, the perfect case-study for the abominable practice of Disneyfication. And then there are some who don’t have any particular fealty to the source material and just hate it as a movie. My friend Moira, (bracketsandampersandsyoureadnow
) has often told me she just finds the whole film to be downright nasty and unpleasant.
So, which camp do I fall into?
Alright, let’s be honest here. This movie has problems. Serious problems that run right to its very core. The source material, The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo, quite frankly is not suited to being adapted into a Disney movie. Not because it’s dark, although it is. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; Disney can do dark. It just can’t do bleak. Now, full disclosure, I haven’t actually read the novel…
Yeah. That’s right. I didn’t read the 200,000 word 18th century French novel to research my silly little cartoon blog. Scandal.
…but it ends with Frollo being flung from the cathedral by Quasimodo, Esmerelda being hung and Quasimodo mourning beside her body until he slowly starves to death.
Coupled with that, the book is an often scathing critique of religious hypocrisy and extremism…right?
“Hm? Uh…sure, why not?”
And that’s something that Disney is just not cut out for. So we get changes like Frollo being a judge rather than the Arch-Deacon of Notre-Dame which leads to all kinds of plotholes and general silliness. These two forces, the dark source material and the sunny demands of the Disney formula are constantly pulling this movie in different direction and often threaten to tear the whole thing to pieces.
And yet…and yet…
When it works? When the emotional power of the story comes together with the gorgeous visuals, the near flawless animation, some great voice work and an absolutely spine-tinglingly excellent soundtrack by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz?
Guys, when this thing works? It SOARS.
And it’s brave too. I mentioned the laicisation of Frollo (and you know what? Fair enough. Catholic parents shouldn’t have to deal with a Disney movie telling their kids what’s wrong with their faith any more than Aladdin
should have a screed on the depiction of women in the Qur’an) but notwithstanding that, this movie goes to some pretty dark places. And in its portrayals of sexual obsession and prejudice it’s remarkably honest and unvarnished. And that’s really Hunchback
all over. It’s a weird, misshapen, sometimes ugly thing on the outside. But inside it has such beauty, and heart and courage…it’s kind of like…um…
Dammit, I had something for this.
Ah well, let’s take a look at the film.
We begin with the film-makers essentially giving us a defiant two-finger salute, the twin bell towers of Notre Dame towering over the clouds (so what if the cathedral isn’t nearly that tall shut up it’s pretty!) while Alan Menken’s Hellfire
theme blasts like a glorious doomsday. It’s a moment of stunning, raw power, easily the equal of the opening moment of The Lion King
. And then, as quickly as it began it’s over and we’re zooming down through the streets of Paris to the opening strains of The Bells of Notre Dame
sung by Clopin (Paul Kandel-fucking phenomenal
). Clopin is a gypsy street entertainer who acts as our narrator, telling the local children the story of the bell-ringer of Notre Dame. “A story” he says “of a man, and a monster.” Those of you who attended the disembowling of Pocahontas
a fortnight prior may remember that I was pretty hard on lyricist Stephen Schwartz but now is the time for kudos. Bells of Notre Dame
is a beautifully written song, with some gorgeously intricate lyrics.
Through song we see a group of gypsies being smuggled into Paris by The Man the Plague Couldn’t Kill.
But they’re ambushed by the most ruthless lawman of all, a merciless force of uncompromising justice, a pure symbol of total fascistic oppression, the one the only Judge..
So yes, we’re introduced to Judge Frollo, voiced by Tony Jay.
Yeesh. Every so often doing this blog I come across something that I have to describe that’s already been said a million time before. What can I say about Tony Jay’s performance in this movie that’s going to do justice to it? He is just flawless. The perfect voice for the part, and an actor who knows how to use it like an exquisitely tuned Stradivarius. But I’ll get more into Jay’s performance as we go along. Anyway, one of the gypsies, a woman, makes a break for it holding a bundle. Frollo assumes that it’s stolen goods and, because he’s a hands-on kind of government official, runs her down on his black hell charger outside the gates of Notre Dame Cathedral as she desperately pleads for sanctuary. Frollo grabs the bundle off her and she slips, cracking her head against the stone steps and dying instantly. Frollo examines the bundle, which has started crying. He looks at the baby’s face, and is so horrified that he instantly decides to drown it and is only stopped at the last moment by the Archdeacon played by David Ogden Stiers (hey where were you when the mother was looking for sanctuary? Putting on your slippers?). These first few scenes are just breathtaking, with the music and the terrific animation infusing everything with a dark, eerie beauty.
The Archdeacon tells Frollo that if he’s under any illusions that God is cool with murdering a woman on the steps of his house and then trying to drown her baby, he’s got news for him: God is not cool with that.
Frollo gets a little nervous about God not being cool with that, and asks the Archdeacon what he can do to make God cool with that. The Archdeacon says “Look after the kid. Then he’ll be cool with it.”
We then get to one of the stupider things that arises from changing Frollo from an archdeacon to a judge. Frollo says that he’ll look after the baby, but he’ll only look after the feeding. The Archdeacon will have to keep the hutch at his place (babies go in hutches, right?). Instead of telling Frollo to screw off, the Archdeacon is apparently okay with Frollo leaving a baby in the belltower (right, because that won’t make the parishioners suspicious). Clopin tells us that Frollo chose a cruel name for the child, Quasimodo.
Holder of the world title for Worst Baby Name from 1482 until June 15 2013.
Clopin asks us who is the monster, and who is the man and finishes the flashback with a huge, epic, utterly glorious crescendo; “Sing the BELLS OF NOTRE DAME!!!”
Twenty years later, Quasimodo is all grown up and is voiced by Tom Hulce, probably best know for playing Mozart in Amadeus. And I have to say, he is absolutely fantastic in this role. Quasimodo is one of the most complex and layered of the Disney heroes and Hulce perfectly portrays a character who’s damaged but still fundamentally decent and caring. He’s got a great set of pipes too, and even when some of the songs are a little too Broadway and artificial, he manages to invest an emotional rawness into them that pulls them up a notch. In fact, he’s so good I’d imagine it’s a source of envy to many other actors.
“You’ve never heard of me? F Murray Abraham? I was a very popular actor in my day.”
“No, I’m sorry.”
“Finding Forrester? Star Trek Insurrection? Scarface?”
“Wait a minute! Weren’t you in Hunchback of Notre Dame? I loved that movie!”
“…No. That wasn’t me.”
“That was Hulce.”
I also have to mention the character design. James Baxter, who also animated Belle and Joanna, was told to create a Quasimodo that was ugly yet visually appealing.
James Baxter does not play by your rules. As this clip should make very clear, when we’re talking about James Baxter the laws of logic do not fucking apply.
Normally, this is where we’d get a scene with the hero being nice to a child, but they don’t let children up in the belltower so Quasimodo has to make do with a small bird who’s too afraid to fly. He manages to coax the bird into taking flight and has to watch as it flies to freedom, leaving him behind in his imprisonment.
Now we meet the gargoyles; Victor, Hugo and Laverne (Charles Kimborough, Jason Alexander and Mary Wickes in her last film role). Ohhhh boy.
See, here’s the thing. I don’t mind the gargoyles. I know plenty of people think they ruin the movie, destroying the dark tone and yadda yadda yadda. To which I say, boo frickin’ hoo Princess.
Because I know what I’m talking about. I’ve been to some dark places. I’ve been to the place where a man’s worth is measured by the mouse ears hanging from his neck. The real. Deep. Shit. I’ve travelled to the ninth circle of Disney comedy relief hell and stared the very Satan of that realm right into his fuzzy face.
Consider now how great must be that whole,
Which unto such a part conforms itself.
Were he as fair once, as he now is foul,
And lifted up his brow against his Maker,
Well may proceed from him all tribulation
And you think the gargoyles are annoying? Please. Complaining about comedy relief animal characters in a Disney film is like watching a Quentin Tarantino movie and loudly declaring that this kind of language would not be tolerated on the lowest docks of Bristol.
“Yes, I said it! Bristol!”
Characters like the gargoyles (oh, and the pedant in me could not rest if I didn’t point out that they’re technically grotesques, not gargoyles) are just part and parcel of the genre, either you’re on board with that or you’re not.
Having said that, I will admit the movie misses a HUGE opportunity with the gargoyles. You see, directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise originally envisioned the gargoyles as being in the movie, but that only Quasimodo would ever see or talk to them or interact with them in any way. Because he had gone insane with loneliness.
If they had had the balls to go through with that, it would probably be the most spectacular case of having your cake and eating it in the history of cake and eating and having. You get to have the funny gargoyles joking and singing and clowning around for the kids, while the adults watch in horror as Quasimodo’s pageant of mental illness plays out before them. It wouldn’t have distracted from the movie’s dark tone, instead it would have intensified it. By like, a factor of one million. But no, in the final battle we clearly see the gargoyles helping Quasimodo defend the cathedral so they’re just…magic gargoyles.
No. Fuck it. They’re all in Quasimodo’s head and he’s just hallucinating like Tyler Durdan at the end of Fight Club. Okay. I’ve fixed the movie. It’s perfect now.
Hooray! Mouse! Mouse! Mouse!
Quasimodo’s bummed because it’s the Feast of Fools, and as usual while everyone is down there drinking and partying and getting laid he’s stuck up in the tower pulling his bell.
You knew that joke was coming, don’t you act innocent with me.
manisfestations of his fractured psyche gargoyles convince him that sneaking out just this once wouldn’t hurt and he’s just about to leave when he runs into Frollo. The change in mood when Frollo appears is just so damn effective. Suddenly the gargoyles are stone, and Quasimodo seems to almost physically shrink in his presence. They sit down to have lunch and Frollo quizzes Quasimodo on his alphabet, reciting words to go with the letters: “A?” “Abomination” “B?” “Blasphemy.” “C?” “Contrition.”
But when they get to F Quasi says “Festival” instead of the correct answer “Filthy Hugenots” and Frollo reads him the riot act for wanting to go to the Feast of Fools. Quasi humbly points out that Frollo goes every year and the judge retorts that he goes because he has to, not because he likes taking part in a day long orgy of booze and mind-bending drugs while trying to keep his head above a veritable ocean of gypsy stripper booty extending to the very horizon.
Through the song Out There, Frollo subtly reasserts his control over his adoptive son, reminding him of his deformity while claiming to only want to protect him. It’s exactly how an abusive parent would control their child and it’s honestly quite heartwrenching. Frollo then leaves, thinking that he’s successfully crushed Quasimodo’s sprit, but Quasi sings a triumphant reprise of Out There where he waxes rhapsodic about how wonderful life must be outside the cathedral walls. Out There, honestly, is a very technically accomplished song that nonetheless feels a little mechanical and rote. It’s the big “I want” song because there’s always a big “I want” song. Having said that, any feeling of artificiality is completely overshadowed by the fact that Hulce is going for this thing with all guns blazing. He manages to invest so much raw longing and passion into this song that he pulls it from “okay” to “great” almost through sheer force of will. He is magnificent.
“But it wasn’t Hulce laughing at me…IT WAS GOD!!!”
Yes, I know, Family Guy already did that joke. Look, some jokes I do for you, some I do for me. That was the latter.
Meanwhile, down in the streets, Phoebus returns from the wars with his trusty steed Achilles. In the book, Phoebus is a womanizing ass bastard who tries to seduce Esmeralda and then allows her to be hanged for his own murder even though he’s still alive…
It is, quite literally, a long story.
Anyway, here Disney have remade the character as a hero with a heart of gold. Now, the Hugo loyalists will rend their garments, but I love Phoebus. The character design is a happy medium between the cartoonish style of the early Renaissance and the more realistic models of Pocahontas, and Kevin Kline has a wonderfully dry delivery. It’s actually pretty amazing how likeable they manage to make Phoebus despite the fact that he’s the pretty, jockish love rival of our hero and he actually wins.
We also meet Esmerelda, a gypsy dancer who Phoebus meets in the street, and her goat, Djali, voiced by Frank Welker (who gets a movie role every time a baby laughs and also every time it doesn’t) .
Esmerelda is, hands down, one of my favourite Disney Princessess…what’s that?
She’s not a Disney Princess?
WELL WHY THE FUCK NOT?!
BECAUSE SHE’S A GYPSY? OR BECAUSE YOUR SQUEAKY CLEAN LITTLE “CLUB” WOULDN’T LET A FORMER STRIPPER IN? OH, LIKE YOU ALL HAVE SUCH CLEAN RECORDS! DON’T FORGET, I’VE REVIEWED ALL YOUR MOVIES, AND I KNOW ALL YOUR SECRETS!
From left to right: Found guilty of domestic slavery, killed a guy while DUI, compulsive shoplifter, coke fiend, coke fiend, coke fiend, statutory rapist, coke fiend.
Screw ’em, you don’t need those stuck up bitches anyway, Em. Two guards start hasseling Esmerelda. One of them’s voiced by Jim Cummings…
Take a shot.
…and he accuses her of stealing the money which she earned honestly by shakin’ that ass, shakin’ that ass, shakin’ that ass. Phoebus intervenes and helps her escape. The guards are about to cut him a new sword hole but he reveals that he’s actually a captain of the guard and their new boss. Funny story, that’s how I met my current boss.
“He may have shortened our coffee breaks, but I took the varlot’s hand!”
Phoebus now meets his new boss, who is none other than Frollo. Frollo explains that he’s taken Phoebus from the front line where he’s been doing God’s work (killing Englishmen) so that he can defend Paris from its real enemies; sexy, sexy gypsies. I’m not even kidding. Frollo says that the gypsies have to be destroyed because they “enflame the people’s basest instincts”. Frollo instructs Phoebus to find the gypsies’ secret stronghold, the Court of Miracles and then…
Wipe them out. All of them.
The Feast of Fools kicks off, with Clopin giving us our next song Topsy Turvy. While all of Paris goes to Bahia, Quasi stumbles around completely out of his element until he falls into Esmerelda’s tent. She helps him up and sends him on his way, saying “great mask!” He then gets swept up in the crowd of Parisians; the merchants, the thieves, the hobos…
You know, the number of Disney movies featuring hookers is turning out to be considerably greater than I would have guessed.
Clopin introduces Esmerelda who proceeds to dance for the crowd and hamanasplalaba…
How the hell did they get this into a kid’s movie?!
Does that sound like I’m complaining? I assure you, I am not.
“Mouse? I can’t fight my feelings any more. I want you to take me, right here, right now…”
“Hmm, what? Yeah, I think we have some in the fridge. I’m busy Jasmine.”
Well, I’m not the only one whose basest instincts have been enflamed. Frollo, Quasimodo and Phoebus are all entranced.
Clopin says that it’s time to crown the King of Fools, and Quasimodo is pulled onstage and told to make the ugliest face he can. When the crowd realises that his ‘orrible mug is not a mask, but the real thing, they’re horrified. Someone shouts that “It’s the bellringer from Notre Dame!”
How the hell do you know that? He’s spent his entire life in the bell tower! Is it just common knowledge that there’s a hideously deformed hunchback ringing the bells? Or is this guy the only one who knows because…I dunno, he’s the bell repair guy? He went up one day and came back trembling and saying “Jesus lads, you won’t believe what they have stashed up there!”
Clopin comes to the rescue, crowning Quasimodo the King of Fools and saying “We asked for the ugliest face in all of Paris and here he is, Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame!”
HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT?!
Shouldn’t he be, at best, an urban legend? This is like if I were walking in the woods and I saw Bigfoot and I said “Holy shit! That’s Bigfoot! Born 23 July 1958. Married Cecily Swanson of Idaho, his childhood sweeheart in 1981, voted Libertarian in the last four elections…” They seem to know quite a lot about this social recluse who apparently has never set foot outside the cathedral until today is all I’m saying.
Well anyway, the crowd goes wild and they finish off a big reprise of Topsy Turvy and for a few seconds Quasimodo basks in their adulation. Then one of the guards throws a tomato at him and the crowd turns nasty again. Honestly, I don’t get it. They’ve accepted him one minute, but as soon as he gets hit by a tomato it’s all “No, too ugly now. Kill the beast.” They tie him to one of those French torture wheels normally reserved for punishing people who are too friendly to tourists and Quasimodo begs Frollo to look into his heart and find enough love and mercy within to…
Yeah, I’m not going to waste any more time with that sentence.
Phoebus asks for Frollo’s permission to help Quasimodo but Frollo says that “a lesson has to be learned here.”
But Esmerelda climbs onto the stage and cuts him loose in defiance of Frollo’s orders. Frollo says that she’ll pay for defying him and Esmerelda tells him to screw off like a boss.
Frollo orders Phoebus and his men to capture her but it turns out Esmerelda is the secret lovechild of Aladdin and Nightcrawler and vanishes in a puff of smoke before making Phoebus’ guards look like a bunch of incompetent ninnies.
Frollo gives Quasimodo a glare of such utter rage and contempt that it’s a wonder the poor guy doesn’t just dissolve into a puddle and he slinks back into the Cathedral, convinced that the world is just as cruel and merciless and obsessed with appearence as Frollo always told him it was. Aw Quasi, don’t be like that. That’s just the French.
Meanwhile, as Phoebus searches the square for Esmerelda, he sees her sneaking into the cathedral and goes after her.
He sneaks up on her but she draws his own sword on him and judo throws him to the ground because SHE IS AWESOME.
Phoebus makes with the charming small talk while she’s kicking his ass and she asks if he’s planning on arresting her. He says that because she’s in the cathedral, he can’t.
“There’s LOTS of things you can’t do in here. And doesn’t that make you want to?”
Frollo arrives and order Phoebus to arrest her but he says that she’s claimed sanctuary and can’t be touched because medieval justice was essentially one big game of Tag and she’s in base. The Archdeacon appears and tells Frollo and his men to leave. Frollo hangs back however, and in one of the creepiest scenes in the movie grabs her from behind and tells her that she can’t stay here forever and that he’ll be waiting. Then he smells her hair. Esmerelda asks him what the hell he thinks he’s doing and he says that he was imagining a rope around her neck. Esmerelda says “I know exactly what you were imagining!” and Frollo replies “Such a clever witch. So typical of your kind to twist the truth.”
“I was just talking about hanging you from the neck until you suffocated or your spine snapped. Trust you to make it weird.”
The undercurrent of misogyny and the implied threat of sexual violence in this scene is actually pretty tough to watch. I can see why some people just can’t get behind this movie.
Frollo leaves and Esmerelda starts planning her escape. The Archdeacon warns her that laying low might be the best option and Esmerelda asks him what Frollo has against people who are different. This leads into Esmerelda’s only song, God Help the Outcasts. Honestly, I go back and forth on this song. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I think it’s phony, manipulative drivel. Heidi Mollenhaur (Esmerelda’s singing voice) does a great job with the vocals though.
Esmerelda sees Quasimodo and follows him up to the bell tower. The gargoyles encourage him to make a move on her…well, Victor and Laverne do. Hugo’s too busy perving on Djali which kind of freaks me out. Don’t get me wrong, it’s 2013 and if a male gargoyle and a male goat want to make a go of it I wish those crazy kids all the luck in the world. I’m just a little concerned because we’re operating on the assumption that the gargoyles are all in Quasi’s head which means that at least part of him wants to fuck Esmerelda’s goat.
He shows her his bells (no snickering in the back, and I’ll take the gum please) and then shows her the view of the city. Oddly enough, this movie is full of stunning cityscapes and this scene has by far the least impressive of all of them.
Wow. That’s really something
Esmerelda says that it’s beautiful (sure, I guess?) but she can’t stay because “gypsies don’t do well inside stone walls”. Quasi says that she’s not like other gypsies because she’s not evil. Esmerelda gently tells him that Frollo’s full of shit; he’s not a monster and she’s not evil and “Maybe Frollo’s wrong about both of us.”
Touched, Quasimodo decides to help her escape and Spider-Mans her down to the streets below. She asks him to come with her but after his little spin on the Tourist wheel he’s good where he is, thanks. She gives him a keepsake, telling him that he can use it to find her if he ever needs her help. Quasi, now completely in love, sings Heaven’s Light, a sweet little love song that leads directly into its dark mirror, Frollo’s villain song, Hellfire.
Frollo learns that Esmerelda’s escaped and orders Phoebus to search every home in Paris for her. They find dozens of gypsies but no sign of Esmerelda, despite the reward for any information going up and up with every dead end until finally…hahahhahahaha!
Oh you should have seen your faces.
Okay, so let’s fucking talk about Hellfire.
This song is absolutely unique amongst the Disney villain songs, and I don’t just mean in terms of quality (though, God yes). Prior to the Renaissance, Disney villains as a general rule didn’t really sing unless they were secondary comedic villains (Honest John, Kaa, Madame Mim). If a main villain did get a song, it was usually another character singing about them rather than they themselves singing (Cruella de Vil, The World’s Greatest Criminal Rat). That changed with Ursula of course, who began the tradition of the villain having his or her own big musical number. These songs usually serve the same purpose, either the villain is trying to bamboozle the hero (Poor Unfortunate Souls) or getting the minions psyched for all the evil they’re about to do (Kill the Beast, Be Prepared). But they are always performances, songs sung to somebody else to advance the villain’s agenda. Hellfire is not like that. Its purpose is introspective. It’s not addressed to anyone (alright, technically he’s talking to the Virgin Mary but she’s not really a character) and instead of learning about Frollo’s plan we’re actually learning about the man himself. This is Frollo performing essentially an audit of his own soul and being terrified at what he finds there. Alright, there’s no point being coy; Frollo is getting a perfect score at the end of this review and this song is a very large part of the reason why. While Frollo has all the charm, menace and elegance of the very best Disney villains, this movie goes much, much deeper in its portrayal of evil than any movie we’ve covered so far. Previous villains have revelled in their villainy, exulted in their evil. And that’s fine, that’s one of the things that makes them so fun. But with Hellfire, the movie shows us a simple truth about evil people that the other films in the canon have not. The Frollos of this world, the bigots, the tyrants, the abusive assholes…they are fucking miserable. They are pathetic, deluded, twisted, deeply unhappy people. I’ve spoken before about “The Moment”, that one instant where the truly great Disney villains show just how evil they really are. With Scar and Maleficent, these were moment of particular callousness and cruelty, but with Frollo The Moment is one of extreme vulnerability. Having declared to heaven and hell alike that he will sate his lust on Esmerelda or burn her alive, he prays “God have mercy on her” and then, in a tremulous whisper adds “God have mercy on me.” These are the words of a man who has finally seen the pitch blackness of his own soul and recoiled in horror from it, but cannot turn away. Aside from the fantastic emotional power of the song, it is also just a triumph on every conceivable level. Jay’s voice, the visuals, the phenomenal orchestral work, the chilling Gregorian chanting, Menken’s score and Stephen Schwartz’s lyrics…absolutely flawless.
It is for these reason that I feel confident in declaring it the greatest single song in the Disney canon.
Over the next few days, the soldiers raid, loot and burn countless homes across Paris purely because Frollo can’t get no tang ’round here. The trail finally leads them to the windmill, where Frollo questions the miller about a gypsy talisman that was found on his property.
“Alright, windmill guy? You live in a windmill. I figure if anyone knows where to get some tang, it’d be you.”
The miller claims ignorance so Frollo places him under house arrest until he gets to the bottom of it. Once outside, however, he tells Phoebus to burn the windmill down with the miller’s family still inside. Phoebus tells Frollo to screw off and Frollo has him arrested and sets the windmill on fire himself. The windmill’s sails instantly catch fire and become a massive, spectacular wheel of flaming wait just a damn minute here!
Oh my God. Burton, you whore!
Phoebus manages to rescue the miller and his family and Frollo orders him to be executed. Esmerelda, who’s been hiding in the crowd, creates a distraction that gives him a chance to escape. He steals Frollo’s horse and makes a run for it but gets shot by an arrow and falls into the river and is left for dead. But Esmerelda manages to fish him out and brings him to Notre Dame to be looked after by Quasimodo. In one of the few places in Paris that she knows Frollo visits on a regular basis. Hey, here’s a thought, why not take him to the Court of Miracles? You know, the place Frollo’s been searching for for years with zero success where he’ll be perfectly safe?
“No. That’s just what they’ll be expecting.”
Quasimodo is overjoyed to see Esmerelda is safe but his hopes are dashed pretty quickly when he sees that Phoebus is with her and that the two of them seem to be joined at the lips. Yeesh, poor guy. First he’s banished to the belltower, then he gets exiled to the Friend Zone.
Esmerelda has to run when Frollo arrives (no, really? Who could possibly have foreseen that?) and she begs Quasimodo to make sure nothing happens to Phoebus.
“Sure thing. Hey, did you know that someone with multiple personality disorder can’t be held legally responsible for crimes committed by their alternate personalities?”
“Really? That’s interesting.”
Frollo enters the belltower and Quasi hides Phoebus under a table while he and Frollo sit down to dinner and oh c’mon! I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next scene they’ve just literally hidden Phoebus’ unconscious body under Frollo’s nose and hope that he thinks it’s just a booger of unusual size and solidity. Frollo pretends to be all light and sweetness (well, as close as he can manage, which I suppose is twilight murk and slightly bitter aftertaste) but proceeds to lost his shit and tells Quasi that he knows he helped Esmerelda escape and that now all of Paris is burning because of him. He then tells him that he’s found the court of miracles and that he’ll be attacking at dawn with a thousand men. After Frollo’s gone, Phoebus says that they have to warn Esmerelda and after some persuading from the gargoyles, Quasimodo eventually decides to defy Frollo again. Of course, this is all part of Frollo’s plan, to use Quasimodo to lead him right to the Court of Miracles.
“We’re taking a terrible risk. This had better work.”
But how to find the Court of Miracles? Quasimodo remembers the band that Esmerelda gave him and he and Phoebus try to decipher it. Phoebues guesses that it’s Greek, or possibly Arabic.
Yeah, you’re not allowed guess what things are anymore. You have lost that right.
But Quasimodo figures out that it’s a map, with the cross in the middle representing the cathedral and the blue thread the river and the little white dot being the Court of Miracles. Which, if this thing is to scale is probably a solid ten miles across. Whatever, we have our heading. They make their way to a cemetery and find a secret passage leading to the court of miracles. The buddy comedy routine here between Kevin Kline and Tom Hulce is actually very funny and will make the ending when it comes just that bit more palatable. They get captured by the gypsies led by Clopin. Interestingly, Clopin is unmasked here and actually seems a lot more sinister and threatening with the mask off than on. He sing The Court of Miracles which is a fun, dark song. In fact it’s almost a villain song in tone, except that the guys singing it are supposed to be the good guys. I actually like the fact that just because the gypsies are oppressed and discriminated against, that doesn’t automatically make them nice. Instead of being dull Nobility Mannequins like Pocahontas’ tribe, the gypsies are depicted as being quite ruthless and perfectly willing to kill Phoebus and Quasi to protect their home. Esmerelda intervenes just in the nick of time and saves them from being hanged. She thanks them both for coming to warn them, but Phoebus rather gallantly gives all the credit to Quasi. But Frollo suddenly arrives with his guards. Frollo tries to pretend that Quasimodo was working for him the whole time but Esmerelda doesn’t believe it for a second. This is something I actually really like. For starters, we don’t get the whole “How could you?!” “No, you’ve got to believe me!” bullshit that we’ve seen a million times before, and also it speaks to the strength of trust between Quasimodo and Esmerelda. Not only does Esmerelda not believe Frollo, she doesn’t even take a second to consider the possibility because it’s absurd. I like that.
Frollo announces to the gypsies that there’s going to be a bonfire and they’re all invited. Hey, maybe he’s not such a bad guy after all? Who doesn’t love a bonfire?
Quasimodo, has been chained to the pillars of the cathedral, high above the square so that he’s forced to watch Esmerelda’s fiery death. While the angry mob is barely held back by Frollo’s guards, he tells Esmerelda that she has two choices; be burned to death in the most horrific manner possible, or have sex with him.
“You have to do me right here, right now! In front of everyone! And you have to call me “Florence”! NO QUESTIONS DAMN YOU!”
Bit of a no brainer, innit?
I have to make mention of the score here, it’s truly magnificent. It quietly builds as Quasimodo passively watches the scene below, having lost all hope. But then, the second Frollo lights the kindling at Esmerelda’s feet a bomb goes off inside Quasi and he roars his rage to the heavens and breaks the chains while the bells of Notre Dame solemnly chime and the choir rises triumphantly. Quasi grabs a rope and swings down to ground level…
Oh, what? Has he got a magic extending rope?
Oh, and now he’s grabbed Esmerelda and the rope just flies back into his hand.
Sorry, my mistake. It’s a magic MIND-READING rope!
SARCASTIC MAP OF WARTIME EUROPE SHUT THE FUCKING FUCK UP THIS IS THE MOST AWESOME SCENE IN THE HISTORY OF CINEMA AND IF YOU TRY TO RUIN IT FOR ME I WILL MURDER YOU WITH MY BARE TEETH!!!!!
Oooookay, I’m gonna go now.
Sorry, but yes. I can’t get enough of this scene, little logical nitpicks notwithstanding. Quasimodo holds Esmerelda’s unconscious body aloft over the cheering Parisians and declares “SANCTUARY!”
While Frollo rallies his men to storm the cathedral, Phoebus escapes from his cell and calls to the people; “Citizens of Paris! Frollo has persecuted our people! Ransacked our city! And now, he has declared war on Notre Dame herself!”
There’s more than one way to read this line. “Notre Dame” of course, means “Our Lady”, and rather than referring simply to the Cathedral, Phoebus’ call could imply that by persecuting the gypsies and the people of Paris, Frollo has turned on the principles of Christianity that he purports to uphold. And that by so doing, he has picked a fight with the Virgin Mary herself.
I’m going to hell for that so I hope you enjoyed it.
Okay so anyway, lalalala, ridiclous scenes with the gargoyles interacting with other character and building catapults, not listening, not listening, it’s all in his head…
Frollo’s forces are beaten back, but the judge manages to break into the cathedral and ascend to the belltower. Quasimodo tells Esmerelda that they’ve won, but for her it’s too late.
Pff, she’s fine. Just needs a bit ‘a prince kissin’.
Now normally, I am not at all a fan of the hoary “Oh no they’re dead oh wait they’re not yaaaay!” fakeout but it occurs to me that if you were watching this for the first time but had read the book this could actually be pretty effective. Because Esmerelda dies in the book, and because this movie has been darker than pretty much every movie in the canon before it, I suppose you could be forgiven for thinking that Disney would actually have the balls to kill off Esmerelda. And, much as I love the character (and I do, rewatching this I actually think she may be the best female Disney character of them all) but killing off Esmerelda might have been the only way this movie could have ended satisfyingly. But I’m getting ahead of myself, we’ll talk about the ending in a bit. Frollo approaches and tells Quasimodo that he had to kill her “It was my duty, painful as it was” and it really is a testament to Tony Jay that he’s able to make such transparently self-serving bullshit sound halfway convincing. Frollo then tries to stab Quasi in the hunch, but Quasi sees his shadow just in time and knocks him to ground. Esmerelda suddenly wakes up from…death…and Quasi grabs her and tries to escape with Frollo in hot pursuit.
Frollo traps Quasi on a ledge and lets him in on a little secret; he killed
Mufasa Quasimodo’s mother. As Esmerelda struggles to pull Quasi up, Frollo raises his sword to kill her and hisses; “And he shall smite the wicked and plunge them into the fiery pit!” which does not appear anywhere in the Bible so I’m just going to assume Frollo is quoting Black Sabbath lyrics.
But then, the gargoyle Frollo is on transforms and he comes face to face with his own damnation…
Some fun, eh kid?
The possessed gargoyle breaks off and Frollo goes plummeting to a fiery death.
LAZY BASTARD KOOKABURRAS!
So, with Frollo dead there’s really nothing left to do but wrap this thing up. And here we come to the big problem. How do you tack a Disney happy ending onto The Hunchback of Notre Dame? I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I find the ending we get, Phoebus and Esmerelda get together with Quasi’s blessing, deeply unsatisfying. I kind of suggests that only attractive people deserve happiness. Sure, Quasi gets the love and acceptence of the people of Paris (as much as anyone can get the love and acceptence of the people of Paris), but what has this movie taught us, if not the dangers of not being able to get no tang around here? Oh, and the evils of prejudice and religious extremism. I guess. But I’m inclined to cut the film-makers a tiny sliver of slack. I’m not entirely sure there was a way to end this thing satisfactorily. Having Quasimodo and Esmerelda get together would be as big a betrayal of the source material as it’s possible to imagine, and I’m sorry, but a Disney movie simply cannot end with all the principal players dying. So what would I have done differently? Honestly, the only possible way of resolving this movie that I can think of would be for Esmerelda to have died and the movie to have ended on a bittersweet note, with Phoebus and Quasimodo mourning her death as brothers-in-arms, while the audience is left with the knowledge that at least now Quasimodo will be loved and accepted by the people of Paris (again, inasmuch as such a thing is possible).
Well, anyway, this is the ending we get, a flawed but nonetheless beautiful finish, to a flawed but truly awe-inspiring work of art.
Although it would be hard to call a film that was the fifth highest grossing movie of 1996 and netted over €300 million dollars worldwide a failure, it was clear that the salad days of The Lion King were gone and they weren’t coming back. As I’ve said before, I partially blame Pocahontas. Once a studio that’s on a hot streak stumbles, everything else that follows gets viewed with a little less enthusiasm. As for the critical response, well it wasn’t bad. More…confused. A lot of people just didn’t know what to make of this one. People still don’t. But it has slowly and steadily developed a cult following in the years since it’s release. What do I think?
Look. When I first started this blog I didn’t just want to rank them according to my personal preference. That would have resulted in a list with Beauty and the Beast near the bottom, well below things like Make Mine Music or Basil the Great Mouse Detective. Obviously, that would be unfair, so I instituted the 20/20/20/20/20 scoring system to inject a little objectivity into the process. That way, even something that I actively dislike like Pocahontas would still get marks for its excellent animation. What this means is, that while the scores broadly reflect my personal preferences for these movies, they don’t always. Lion King, objectively, is a better movie than The Hunchback of Notre Dame. But if I come home from a long day at work and I just want to watch a Disney movie to pick me up…I don’t watch Lion King. I watch this.
If you want to know what the greatest Disney movie of all time is, you’re going to have to keep following the blog until we come to the end.
But if you were just reading this to know what my favourite Disney movie is?
Here’s looking at you, kid.
Comes damn close to perfection.
The Leads: 20/20
Hey, he may look like a Justin Bieber waxwork that’s been left too close to a heat source, but he’s my favorite Disney lead.
The Villain: 20/20
No objections I trust?
Supporting Characters: 17/20
Okay, hear me out. Sure, the gargoyles are nothing special. But I’m also including Phoebus, Esmerelda and Clopin in the supporting character category. Make sense now?
The Music: 19/20
It has, in my opinion anyway, the single greatest song in the canon. And the score is absolutely excellent. But some of the songs are, if not bad, then less than perfect, so I can’t quite justify giving it a perfect score.
FINAL SCORE: 95%
NEXT TIME: The Unshaved Mouse celebrates its first anniversery, I review Hercules, we dance, we kiss, we schmooze, we go home happy whaddya say?
NEXT UPDATE: 08 August 2013
Neil Sharpson AKA The Unshaved Mouse, is a playwright, comic book writer and blogger living in Dublin. The blog updates every second Thursday. Thanks for reading!