As a child, the Hunchback of Notre Dame was one of my favorite movies: it had gypsies, a strong female character, magic, a knight in shining armor, and plenty of adventure.
Then, as I grew, I fell in love with the sound track. Very intense and very beautiful. The medieval chants they do, the Mozart-ish Catholic Requiems, my goodness! What spirit (passion and religious) was enveloped in the music of this movie. The lyrics as well…especially God Help the Outcasts. The one year I was ever in choir (ever) was my sophomore year of high school. One of the units we did was on Catholic mass as well as Mozart’s Requiem. I began recognizing words from the Hunchback and began looking up Latin translations for the whole songs.
I am now 23. I still own the original VHS my parents bought for me when the movie first came out in the mid 90’s. I am a medieval historian. I am been to Great Britain (yes, I know Notre Dame is in Paris, France). I’ve seen medieval cathedral architecture with my own two eyes! I have studied medieval religion and politics and how they were entwined–you couldn’t have one without the other. Now, knowing all the ins and outs of the social and religious thought processes of Paris in the early 15th century (the time in which the movie is set–during the Crusades), I love the movie even more.
I love the movie, and appreciate the comic relief the gargoyles bring (although I think the movie could have done well enough without the trio of gargoyles and Djalli the goat). But, the songs and music are so deep. Let me share a bit with you.
The Bells of Notre Dame
This is the first song, as well as the back story that will start the movie off. It introduces the character of Frollo. Now Frollo is a judge in Paris. He has a lot of power because of that, and is expected to judge politically, but keeping the standards of the church in mind. Like any other politician, religious figure in history who believes they are the only balance of light and truth and the beacon to which all others should fly to for salvation, this goes to their mind. Sometimes they tend to have a twisted view of righteousness and justice. Frollo mistakes baby (hunchback) Quasimodo for stolen goods and kills his mother for that. In medieval times, it was the belief that if you are disfigured, then either your spirit, or your parents have sinned in some way. Or you are a child of the devil. That is why Frollo wants to drown baby Quasimodo. The archdeacon stops him, saying Frollo has spilled innocent blood. He says, “You can lie to yourself and your minions. You can claim 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.” The artists of this movie spent weeks in Paris, studying the architecture of Notre Dame to correctly implement them. Gargoyles and Saints were decorative to Cathedrals to protect it, to teach, and to keep an eye on the villagers. So, the archdeacon was right: the Heavens will know what Frollo has done. The last line in this song asks, “What makes a monster and what makes a men?” That is the main theme of this movie.
Frollo has raised Quasimodo for 20 years under his twisted view of the world. He has led Quasimodo to believe he is a monster and that Frollo is the only one who would ever love or protect him. Because of this mental abuse, Frollo is able to keep control over Quasimodo. However, Quasi only wants to be able to spend a day out in the real world. Because of his deformities and disabilities, he is more self-aware of what gifts people have…how wonderful it would be to be like everyone else. “Everyday they shout and scold and go about their lives, heedless of the gift it is to be them. If I was in their skin, I’d treasure every instant.” Quasi know it is a gift to be alive. This movie teaches us not to take our health for granted. Be thankful we are who we are and we are alive.
Now, the lyrics in song aren’t very influential…it is a made up holiday that gypsies supposedly celebrate and that public officials (like Frollo) have to attend. But, it’s what you see. Before the song, Frollo has just hired Pheobus to be his captain of the guard. Pheobus has come back from the Crusades (that is why his armor has a cross on it). The Crusades were “holy wars” sanctioned by the Pope to reclaim the Holy Land (Jerusalem) from the Muslims. Pheobus has that “holy war” mindset but questions why Frollo wants to get rid of gypsies. Frollo despises them because they live “outside the common order,” and tempt others to do so as well…that is not what the Church wants. During the song, you see how the gypsies are having a free-for-all in just celebrating life. While Esmeralda dances, there is a Romanian sounding music. That is because gypsies are the Roma…they actually are Aryan Indians who migrated after an invasion in India. We also see the first interaction between Esmeralda and Frollo…during her sensual dance. Now that sensual mindset will stay with him, tempting him out of his very strict, black-and-white view of the world.
God Help the Outcasts
Oh my gosh! Powerful lyrics! Powerful meaning! No matter what type of Christian you are, this applies to everyone. Faith restored in humanity! Just listen to the song and feel the lesson it teaches you…I’d only take from the spirit this song protrudes.
(Just as a side note: Esmeralda is trapped within the Cathedral of Notre Dame. But, Frollo can’t arrest her while in there because of “sanctuary.” Cathedrals, missions, etc. where places of sanctuary. Places were monks and priests could worship, share the Gospel, and serve with loving charity. Thus, Esmeralda, while in Notre Dame, is under the protection of the church, and thusly, the Pope, and thusly, God. Frollo can’t go against that.)
Heaven’s Light/Evensong/Hell Fire
Quasi has helped Esmeralda escape and she thanks him. They are very close now, and Quasi is starting to have feelings for her. He says that couples, those who love each other, have a glow like heaven’s light on them. He was too afraid to even hope that he could have that, but because of how Esmeralda has treated him, he now has Heaven’s Light.
Then, it goes to the archdeacon and priests singing an evensong. The Latin translates to this: “I confess to God almighty. To blessed Mary, ever Virgin. To the blessed archangel Michael. To the holy apostles and the saints.”
Then, it goes to Frollo. He is wrestling with his carnal desire for Esmeralda now (over the heads of little kids, but adults can see this deeper, darker plot) and his position as a “holy” judge. He prays to Mary, who is a Virgin, so she, as a Saint, holds power and privilege over that. The medieval church put her on a pedestal so it is ok that Frollo is conversing with her. He feels he is now being judged by the heavens for his carnal desire. So, he bargains: Esmeralda will be his or she will burn at stake for her temptations and use of “witchcraft.” By being his, he can save her soul with the authority he has, and he would get what he wants. One of my favorite lines in this song is when Frollo asks, “It’s not my fault, if in God’s plan, he made the Devil so much stronger than the man.” That was a common believe during that time. People feared the Devil just as much as they feared the wrath of God. In my church, we do not believe that. We believe Satan as already lost and he knows it. We can have power over the Devil, by resisting temptation and keeping our eyes on the Savior, the Devil can not have power over us.
A Guy Like You
Frollo has gone overboard: burning Paris trying to find Esmeralda. Quasi is worried about her. Every Disney movie has to have the stereotypical best-friend-involved-in-your-love-life song. And since the movie is set in Paris, it has to have Paris stereotypical love song happenings as well. It’s a very cheesy song. But, it does talk about how, even if you are different, people will still love you.
Court of Miracles
Frollo realizes that Quasi has helped Esmeralda escape, so he devises a plan to entrap Quasi, Pheobus, and Esmeralda. Quasi and Pheobus use a secret map to help them find the Court of Miracles (the hiding spot of the Gypsies). They are ambushed by the gypsies who want to immediately hang them because the Gypsies are “rather like hornets protecting their hive.” Again, kind of another cheesy song, but shows the fear the Gypsies live under. Anyone who finds out where they live, have to be killed so those who want to kill the Gypsies won’t find their way. At the last minute, Pheobus and Quasi are saved by Esmeralda.
Frollo followed them and now has captured the gypsies, especially Esmeralda. He chains Quasi up in the bell tower and holds a public burning. He gives Esmeralda one more chance to recount her evil ways and become his or burn. She spits in his face. He is going to burn her on account of using “witchcraft” and says, “The gypsy Esmeralda has refused to recant. This evil witch has put the soul of every citizen in Paris in danger.” Quasi is about to give up, but when he sees Frollo lighting the pier on fire, he gains the strength to break the chains. He grabs a rope and swings down to Esmeralda, grabs her, climbs back up Notre Dame and raises her (she is now unconscious due to asphyxiation) and yells, “Sanctuary! Sanctuary! Sanctuary!”
This is a very touching, passionate song, all in Latin. It is all about God saving those who need to be saved as well as righteous judgement. The translation is as follows:
Judex crederis esse venturus (Our Judge we believe shall come)
In te, Domine, speravi (In You, Lord, have I trusted)
Non confundar in aeternum (Let me not be damned for eternity)
Salvum fac populum tuum (Save Your people)
Judex crederis (In our Judge we believe)
Libera me Domine (Free me, Lord)
Libera me Domine de morte aeterna (Free me, Lord, from everlasting death)
In die illa tremenda (On that terrible day)
Quando caeli movendi sunt (When the heavens shall be moved)
Caeli et terra (The heavens and earth)
Dum veneris judicare (When Though shall come to judge the world)
O, salutaris hostia (Oh Saviour, saving victim)
Quae caeli pandis ostium (Who opens the gate of heaven)
Bella premunt hostilia (Our enemies besiege us)
Da robur, fer auxilium (Give us strength, bring us aid)
Sit sempiterna gloria (May you always be praised)
Sit sempiterna gloria (May you always be praised)
Sit sempiterna gloria (May you always be praised)
Gloria, gloria semper (Glory, glory forever)
Sanctus, sanctus in excelsis (Holy, holy, in the highest)
Mors stupebit et natura (Death and nature shall be confounded)
Cum resurget creatura (When creation shall rise again)
Judicanti responsurra (To answer for judgment)
Judex ergo cum sedebit (Therefore, when the Judge will take his seat)
Nil inultum remanebit (Nothing shall remain unpunished)
Quem patronum rogaturus (To what protector shall I appeal)
Cum vix justus sit securus? (When scarcely the just man shall be secure?)
Juste Judex ultionis (Righteous Judge of vengeance)
Ante diem rationis (Before the day of reckogning)
Kyrie Eleison (Lord have mercy)
And He Shall Smite the Wicked
Frollo follows them up to get rid of both Quasi and Esmeralda once and for all. Looking at the scenery, you can see symbolism: “hell fire” at the bottom of Notre Dame, gargoyle demons, etc. Frollo, as he is about to strike the killing blow to Quasi, quotes, “And He shall smite the wicked and plunge them into the fiery pit!” Remember, Frollo still has his twisted mindset that he is a righteous, holy, just judge and is doing God’s duty. But, the irony now falls on him, as it seems like Notre Dame is going to take her vengeance from the beginning of the movie. The gargoyle he is standing on seems to come alive, which causes Frollo to stumble, and it breaks off, plunging him into the fiery pit below.
The movie ends with Pheobus and Esmeralda falling in love and Quasimodo being accepted and loved by Paris. Besides Pheobus and Esmeralda, the first person to accept him is a little child. She bravely walks past all the frightened onlookers, stares into his face, and touches him. When she realizes Quasi is really just like anyone else, she hugs him and leads him to the crowd. It is just like Christ tells us, to be like a little child. The innocence of children is actually in reality, their wisdom.
I have also been reading a book called, The Secret History of the World by Mark Booth. It is trying to make one truth out of all the esoteric and religious views of history. And now watching this movie again, there is a ton of esoteric stuff in it! But, the jump that Disney was willing to make, to include religious ideals and a song that speaks directly to God! No way they would do that anymore, but I think they should. They did such an amazing job. The animation was awesome, the music was beautiful, it was funny. But more than that, it taught a large moral lesson and the lyrics were very powerful. And that is why The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of my favorite movies ever!