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Simon Says: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

1 Feb

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a Disney movie that’s based on a novel written by Victor Hugo way back in 18-something.  I haven’t read it (although I have read Les Miserables, so check this blog later for more on that) but I have watched the movie more than a few times.  Though it came out after the “Disney Renaissance” on the heels of Pocahontas, a mediocre Disney film, I found Hunchback to be a thoroughly enjoyable movie.  Though it has a few missteps (i.e. gargoyles), its positives more than make up for it, and Hunchback is one of my favorite Disney films to date.

So imagine my joy to find out that there was a stage show based on the Disney movie, based on the book.  I had always thought the music was one of the highlights of the film (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sung “Hellfire” in the shower) and I was super excited that the show was finally releasing the studio album.  The album dropped on January 21st of this year, and of course I was first in line to check it out.  What did I think?

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

 

The Good:

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Studio Cast Recording) is a faithful adaptaion of the source material, and mixes a lot of the old songs from the film that I love with new songs that feel right in place, both thematically and stylistically.  If you liked the music from the movie, then you will love this.  It sounds like the old songs have been dusted off and polished up like the bells of the french cathedral itself.  My favorite songs from the movie are my favorite songs from the musical.  The vocals are nothing short of amazing.  Esmeralda’s caring heart and Frollo’s inner darkness can be heard in their vocals.  “The Bells of Notre Dame” deserves some special mention; if you have watched the movie, you may notice some changes in the backstory here.  But I actually like the changes.  We get much needed backstory on (now Archdeacon) Frollo, the musical’s main antagonist.

The new songs are great too.  About half of this soundtrack is new material, written by Alan Menken, the guy who did the original music for the movie.  As a result, a lot of this new stuff fits.  I really liked the track called “Made of Stone” that appears near the end of the soundtrack.  It’s a song about Quasimodo’s darkest moment, and you can just hear the defeat in his voice.  It also does a good job of using the gargoyles the right way.  They’re more like a chorus from the Greek plays of old, existing in Quasi’s mind to help him develop his thoughts.

The Bad:

The ending.  Oh my gosh, the ending.  I don’t think I’ve cringed harder listening to a soundtrack (and I’ve seen Avenue Q twice).  If you want to avoid major spoilers about the ending, just skip this next part.

Okay, in the climax of the movie,  Quasimodo and Esmeralda are trying to escape a crazed Frollo, who’s chasing them with sword in hand.  The three are on the top of Notre Dame Cathedral, Frollo hellbent on murdering them.  Hundreds of feet below, a great fire is burning, surrounding Notre Dame in hellish flames.  A scuffle sends the three over the side, and Quasimodo and Frollo end up hanging on for dear life.  However, Frollo is able to regain his footing and pulls himself up to a gargoyle outcropping.  As Esmeralda desperately tries to drag Quasi up, Frollo raises his sword over the two, ready to deliver the final blow.

“And he shall smite the wicked,” Frollo bellows, “and plunge them into the fiery pit.”

At that moment, the gargoyle below Frollo gives way, causing the mad man to slip.  He grabs onto the rocky outcropping in a last ditch effort to save himself, before the stone structure breaks from its hold completely sending Frollo into the fires below.

That is an epic, amazing ending.  Couldn’t have written a better ending myself.

Here’s what the musical does:  Frollo begs and enraged Quasimodo not to kill him.  Quasimodo hesitates for a moment, but his gargoyle friends tell him to go ahead and waste the old man, and Quasi pushes Frollo off the side of Notre Dame.

So why do I have a problem with this?  They’re basically the same ending, right?  Both end with Frollo falling off of Notre Dame.

Well, in the movie, Frollo meets his end because of his own madness and obsession.  His quest to conquer the gypsies and what he sees as “sinful” sends him into a hell of his own making.

The musical, however, decides to kill Frollo by killing Quasimodo’s character.  Quasi goes from a misunderstood misfit to a homicidal psychopath in a few moments.  This isn’t the Quasimodo we see in the rest of the musical.  As in the movie, Quasimodo shows himself to be the real man, and Frollo the real monster, because of his sense of right, his kindness, and his willingness to let his obsession (Esmeralda) go.  But I can’t buy it when Quasimodo shows that he’s just as willing to murder as Frollo is.  It’s ironic, because the whole point of Hunchback of Notre Dame is that Frollo is the real monster,nut in this show, Quasimodo becomes one when he kills Frollo.

The Final Verdict:

With all that, you may be surprised to read that I still really enjoyed listening to this soundtrack.  I suppose that like the movie it’s based on, it has its own share of problems that are kind of hard to overlook, but once again the good outweighs the bad.  If you loved the movie, or if you’re looking for a good album to sing along to, give this a shot.

Just ignore the last two minutes.

 

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