Beginning with Pocahontas in 1995, Disney films began to slowly put twists on the traditional “happily ever after” ending. In the case of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, while Quasimodo clearly has feelings for Esmeralda, she ultimately falls in love with Phoebus, the one-time captain of Frollo’s guards. Before that happens though, the idea that Quasimodo and Esmeralda might end up together is teased in “Heaven’s Light” which takes place after the bell ringer helps the beautiful gypsy escape the cathedral.
Under Frollo’s “instruction,” Quasimodo has grown up believing that he will never find love, that no one would ever want him. But Esmeralda has proven that to be not true, so for the first time in his life, he’s dreaming of love:
So many times out there
I’ve watched a happy pair
Of lovers walking in the night
They had a kind of glow around them
It almost looked like Heaven’s light
I knew I’d never know
That warm and loving glow
Though I might wish with all my might
No face as hideous as my face
Was ever meant for Heaven’s light
But suddenly an angel has smiled at me
And kissed my cheek without a trace of fright
I dare to dream that she
Might even care for me
And as I ring these bells tonight
My cold, dark tower seems so bright
I swear it must be Heaven’s light
Thus encouraged, Quasimodo returns to ringing the bells for the evening service and the scene transitions to Frollo in his chambers at the Palace of Justice. Accompanied by the strains of the Confiteor, a penitential prayer, Frollo addresses himself to the Virgin Mary in a prayer of his own. As pure as Quasimodo’s song of love was only moments ago, Frollo’s is the complete opposite. This is the prayer of a hypocrite, one of sees the faults in everyone but not his own.
Confiteor Deo Omnipotenti (I confess to God almighty)
Beatae Mariae semper Virgini (To blessed Mary ever Virgin)
Beato Michaeli archangelo (To the blessed archangel Michael)
Sanctis apostolis omnibus sanctis (To the holy apostles, to all the saints)
Beata Maria, You know I am a righteous man
Of my virtue I am justly proud
You know I’m so much purer than
The common, vulgar, weak, licentious crowd
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 her 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
It took me so many years to understand everything that was happening in this sequence (I can tell you as a child the subtext went completely over my head). Basically, in the midst of his prayers, Frollo can’t get over the fact that he’s physically attracted to Esmeralda (a very beautiful woman). In his mind, he’s above this kind of desire (or at least he should be) and it’s driving him insane that he feels this way. Incidentally, the animation of Esmeralda dancing in the flames nearly didn’t make it into the film, as it initially appeared that she was nude (that’s why you can clearly see the outline of her dress in the fire).
And having acknowledged his descent into sin, Frollo is seemingly confronted by a hall full of heavenly judges in red robes. Pleading these desires aren’t his fault, the judges answer back Mea Culpa (It IS my fault). Again, we have to remember Frollo’s one weakness: above all else he fears being condemned to Hell and in his mind the blame lies squarely on Esmeralda.
Protect me, Maria
Don’t let the siren cast her spell
Don’t let her fire sear my flesh and bone
And let her taste the fires of Hell!
Or else let her be mine and mine alone
This is one of the more twisted motivations any Disney villain has ever had. If Esmeralda can’t (or won’t) be his, he’ll destroy her. This is a messed up situation on any level and it gets even worse when a guard reports that Esmeralda has escaped the cathedral which is actually a really big deal. This means that Frollo likely sent the guard to fetch the gypsy and bring her back to his chambers to do who-knows-what to her!! Is it any wonder this is regarded as the darkest film of the Disney Renaissance?
“Hellfire” has gone down in history as the ultimate Disney Villain song and I don’t see any reason to disagree. But what do you think? Let me know your thoughts on “Heaven’s Light” and “Hellfire” in the comments below and have a great day!
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