Saturday, March 16, 2024

Walt Disney, part L: It's not my fault, if in God's plan, he made the Devil so much stronger than a man


Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
Written by Tab Murphy, Irene Mecchi, Bob Tzudiker, Noni White, and Jonathan Roberts (based on the novel Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo)

Spoilers: high

With The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Walt Disney animated feature arrives upon a milestone: its first film where the comic relief has actually managed to substantially ruin it.  The easiest thing here would be to say that with the advent of Aladdin, and specifically Robin Williams's Genie, family animation had not been given merely the permission to pursue laughs regardless of the consequences, it'd been handed the outright obligation.  Otherwise, the movie would be deemed "too serious," which is exactly what happened with Pocahontas.  It's perhaps what happened here, as it wasn't very successful either (significantly higher-budgeted than Pocahontas, it was, in fact, almost not even profitable); but by God, they certainly gave it their best try, which is the same thing as saying their worst.  I don't want to pretend that old-school Disney comedy wasn't frequently awful in its own right, but this would be the way going forward.  And thus do we have The Hunchback of Notre Dame: a movie about infanticide, genocide, rape, torture, the misuse of state power, and Catholicism, that's funny.

Let's amend that right now: supposed to be funny.  This is, and has always been, Hunchback's infamy, namely being a very good movie that also has those Goddamned gargoyles, the consensus pick for the Disney comic relief that does the most damage to the movie they happen to be in, because of how much Hunchback's comedy interferes with Hunchback's everything else.  However, let us correct both of the myths that attend the gargoyles: the gargoyles are not funny, period, not solely because they trivialize a narrative tinged with historic horror; and it's not just the gargoyles, so saying "let's just mentally edit the gargoyles out" lets a ton of other misplaced comedy off the hook, such as the majority of everything to do with the heroine's sidekick goat, or those dumbfuck gags revolving around that horse's ass, or the interruption of the climactic battle, upon which turns rape, genocide, etc., with a "man falls in sewer" bit.  I will admit only that "man falls in sewer," concluding a runner about an accident-prone old codger, could've been funny somewhere else.

Now, I said the easy thing is to blame all this on Aladdin.  That's the settled wisdom, and I mostly agree with it, though I have also sat through 91 minutes of hearing directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise and producer Don Hahn talk about Hunchback, and they sure don't sound like their hands were forced.  After all, we can draw a line straight through 1992's Aladdin and back to 1991 and the directors' own Beauty and the Beast, for Beauty and the Beast is prone to the exact same crap, only in more forgiving circumstances, because they'd established that film's villains as somewhat-comic figures themselves, and notyou knowa seething mass of religious repression and racist hypocrisy.  But Aladdin probably bears responsibility for the shocking strain of anachronism in Hunchback's humor.

As for the film around that, it at least touches greatness.  It is, of course, based on the Victor Hugo novel Notre-Dame de Paris, with significant influence from previous film adaptations, particularly William Dieterle's 1939 version, though the most Hugo-indifferent changesand I don't even mean the gargoyles, which are, in fact, marginally text-based; rather, I mean the elevation of its English-language titular character to a true protagonist, and giving him his hearing back to simplify thingsseem to be its own innovations.  Even so, it's evidently not as far off as I'd assumed (which leads me to believe that the novelwhich I'll be shocked if I ever even try to readprobably uses a majority of its 940 pages for digressions about architecture).  It is, needless to say, unfaithful in many of the ways you'd expect the Disney cartoon version to be: besides the establishment of something like a heroic center, its other hero (which is already another, enormous change) is way less of a womanizing shithead; France has a king in the book, not just a weird vacuum of power filled by a chief judge; the heroine is the broadly correct hue for a 15th century Roma with minimal European admixture, and the wrong hue for the revelations the novel gets up to, which is to say, those revelations are dropped, along with the most reprehensible behavior Hugo associates with Roma culture*; and the goth ending is changed to be mostly its opposite, for as Wise later noted, nobody ever wanted to make a movie that ended with everybody dead.  But the villain... well, again, I've never read the book, but while they changed his occupation to avoid offending the whinier Catholics, the villain looks to be substantially the same.

This was the endpoint of Disney's development process, and to my understanding it had one of the easier times of it (perhaps even because of its fraughtnessperhaps that made it obvious what to change). First conceived by executive David Stainton in 1993, it was handed to Trousdale and Wise, who were sufficiently intrigued that they don't seem to have ever complained that they had to drop the project they'd been developing, a film about Orpheus (gosh, if you want to talk about fraught material), with Hercules soon preempting even the possibility of it.

The story, then, as Disney would have it, wound up like this: in late 15th century Paris, we have the Roma street performer Clopin (Paul Kandel), who would like to tell us about the ringer of the bells at Notre-Dame, called Quasimodo (Tom Hulce), his name already suggesting something of his physical constitution, though to the extent this version of Quasimodo is afflicted with disability, it truly is only a social one; we'll discover soon that ringing bells all day will get you fucking jacked, capable of lifting dudes in armor off the ground with one hand and navigating the walls, roofs, and interiors of Notre Dame like a man with radioactive blood.  But first, however, Clopin must hearken back to Quasimodo's sad origins, which Quasimodo did not then know himself: twenty years before our story begins in earnest, a Roma family, including Quasimodo's mother, attempted to enter Paris.  They were accosted by Judge Claude Frollo (Tony Jay) and his men, and they fled, but in their flight Quasimodo's mother's brains were dashed upon the very steps of the cathedral her son would call home, leaving her infant child behind.  Revolted by the child's deformations, Frollo's first impulse was to throw him down the nearest well, but the archdeacon (David Ogden Stiers) stopped him from completing this heinous crime, for the very sound reason that this is the well they all use.  Also that infanticide is a sin.  So, too, was murdering Quasimodo's mother, and thus was the orphan thrust into Frollo's care, as penance, to be kept at Notre Dame, but under the guardianship and tutelage of the judge who for that one moment knew moral horror, witnessing the Mother of God herself look down with contempt upon him, though his moment of clarity could only become dimmer and dimmer as it moved further into the past.

Two decades later, Quasimodo has grown, but remains forbidden to ever leave his quarters in the bell tower of the cathedral.  He yearns to walk the streets of Paris, or to speak to anyone outside his incredibly constrained circlebeyond Frollo, that's only those gargoyles, whom he imagines speak back (Mary Wickes, Charles Kimbrough, and Jason Alexander).  Yet on the day of the Festival of Fools, Quasimodo sees a chance to mix with the costumed crowds more unobtrusively than he might on an ordinary day.  This goes altogether terribly: his unusual features earn him the crown of the King of Fools, and when they find out he's not wearing a mask, the mob does what a mob will do, mocking and tormenting him, their jeers halted only by the intercession of the Roma entertainer, Esmeralda (Demi Moore).  Naturally enough, poor, naive Quasimodo cannot help but fall in love with the beautiful woman who showed him basic decency.  But Frollo is also reluctantly present, and he'd recognized Quasimodo immediately; indeed, having welcomed the crowd's edifying punishment of his ward, he objects to Esmeralda's interferencehe objects to Esmeralda in detail, not least because her dance has already aroused something slumbering in himbut when Esmeralda further defies him, he sets his guards on her, and only through the sanctuary of the cathedral and the simultaneous romantic stirrings of Frollo's new captain, Phoebus (Kevin Kline), is she saved.  Yet even this is temporary: Frollo is obsessed with her, and almost as obsessed with stamping out her race, and Quasimodo, Phoebus, and Esmeralda shall all dance for him in turn, as he uses them to lead him directly to the so-called "Court of Miracles," where the Roma population of Paris hides, and where they can, therefore, be eliminated in one fell swoop.

I'm saying absolutely nothing new to remark that that is some grim material for a Disney cartoon, though I'm not even sure "subject matter" is the half of it.  It's certainly not none of it, though; consider the centerpiece of this dramatic musical, Frollo's "Hellfire" (the second half of a diptych with "Heaven's Light," Quasimodo's nicer, sweeter first half of the song tending to be blotted out hard by the second, even if it shouldn't be), which earns its renown as the film's signature sequence for good reason.  Here composer Alan Menken, lyricist Stephen Schwartz, and Frollo's supervising animator Kathy Zielinski capture, as explicitly as possible, and in what barely manages to remain "family animation" because of it, our unhappy judge's cancerous combination of slavering lust, perceived sin, racial animus, and weakness before God.  If that's not enough for you, then you at least noticed it has a swear word in it.  It's an even more surprising (and rather more serious) imposition of darkness than the sudden appearance of fascism back in "Be Prepared"; and I don't know if it's strange or not, and maybe you even disagree, but I think it is actually more surprising that there's a Disney cartoon from 1996 where its characters explicitly believe in God, and three of them even sing about it, than it is that there's a Disney cartoon that merely likens an evil lion to Nazis.  (I mean, the characters in Aladdin are generically Muslim, and you can make assumptions about other Disney characters, but this film is unique in the Disney canon in actually engaging with religion; I think the only two Disney characters before Hunchback who were explicitly Christian at all were Johnny Appleseed and Friar Tucksomehow King Arthur wasn't!and even serious Pocahontas only barely manages to imply its white characters' Christianity, and never Anglicanism as such, arguably not getting that far as regards its indigenous characters' particular spirituality.)

But it's not just swears and Catholicism: Hunchback is almost flabbergastingly mature, astonishingly willing to be emotionally austere and morally rigorous, maybe even moreso than if everybody had ended up dead, which would've at least provided catharsis by default.  Disneyfication is presentQuasimodo does not massacre his allies by accident, nor even his enemies; he does not perform frottage upon Esmeralda's corpse; Frollo perishes by an eye-rollingly convenient (though still pretty rad) Disney Deathbut there's still some moral gray here; the Roma have grown pretty fucking mean in their victimized insularity, for instance.**  But, especially, there's the shift of Phoebus to co-heroic status amidst this story's "love" quadrangle, which does some weird things to it that actually seem to make it tougher, forcing Quasimodo to realize he's imagined a romantic relationship with Esmeralda even more surely than he's imagined his gargoyles doing sitcom banter from 1996.  This isn't a quadrangle.  It's not even a triangle.  It really has very little to do with him, except that he is simply in a position to do, or not do, the right things; and the second half of the film finds Quasimodo's conscience dragging him, with much resentment, to the correct conclusions.  He essentially gets nothing for this, only the basic human dignity that should've been his in the first place, while the smarmy blond gets everything; and Quasimodo's ordinary anger and depression about this situation is thrown into sharp relief by the spiraling, complex madness experienced by his father figure, who, if you pretend is still a Catholic priest (is it possible that, like the Duke of Richelieu, he could be both priest and secular official?), has put himself in a cage of permanent sexual frustration much akin to Quasimodo's, only he responds to the same stimulus horribly differently.  (This is where "Judge Frollo" does pose some problems beyond the awkward logistics of trotting out to Notre Dame to see his ward once a week: the story as told somewhat requires someone who can't fuck, now suddenly realizing he needs to, and therefore foisting his years of self-denial upon his victim.  My question is how this guy suddenly became a lecher at age 50.  "Judge Frollo," after all, could take a wife, could even court Esmeralda, she'd need only be baptized, and, failing that, he has much discretionary income and lives in 15th century Paris.  The silver lining is that Quasimodo should now at least have access to his city's recreational activities, with presumably much less self-flagellation about it.)

But you can still see how this would suit the makers of Beauty and the Beast, since that's what we have here, Beauty and the Beast for realistic and pragmatic grown-ups, shifted outside of wish-fulfilling fantasy and into a more cynical mode, with a Beast who was never a handsome prince, that role already being filled by another, and a Gaston who's pathetic; but, in fact, it's almost distractingly Beauty and the Beast again, if you realize, as I did with a bit of a shock, that it's Beauty and the Beast if you simply split the ravenous possessiveness of Gaston and the more appealing local hero qualities of Gaston into two separate characters, and then, likewise, split the Beast into two for balance.  But the sort of unresolved emotions that Hunchback gets up to make it awfully distinctive anyway.  Hypothetically, then, I like it much more than Beauty and the Beast, a film I'm a bit of a heretic about.

So it's too bad that this revelation occurred to me during the climax, where the resemblance between the two is at its most disagreeably acute, thanks to both films finishing with the Beast figure getting the shit beat out of him by the rapey guy until the latter falls off the roof, interspersed with the asinine clowning of the former's impossible friends while we're meant to have our hearts in our throats wondering how it ends.  Yes, it's the gargoyles again: there's stretches where you can accept that they are what Trousdale and Wise say they are, manifestations of Quasimodo's lonelinessthis doesn't explain their unfunny anachronism, or how the goat sees themand it's impossible to accept during the tonally-wrecked action finale, which otherwise does so much so well (Quasimodo snatching Esmeralda from the depredations of a demon, Quasimodo and Frollo battling on the literal spires of heaven over the literal pit of hell's fire that has been made of the square below***), but intercuts the good gnarliness with slapstick cartoon japery and zany sound effects, altogether even worse than the largely-Alexander-mediated obnoxiousness that at least previously had been just comic relief.  (One of the few funny things they ever say is when Wickes's gargoyle turns around and belts Alexander with "No, you're the fat stupid one who can't keep his mouth shut," which is funny because she said what we were all thinking, and she sounds so sincerely contemptuous.)  I even hate their designs: I think I'd have tolerated the gargoyles slightly more if they'd been the actual creatures their statues represent, instead of just stone blocks that bounce around stupidly on their truncated torsos.  The idea was that, like Quasimodo, they are also "half-formed," sculptors' cast-offs; but you kind of have to be told that to get it.  And, as it would lead to us pondering how they even manage to speak in the first place, it's perhaps uncharitable of me to question how a stone block ever manages an armpit fart; yet I question it all the same.

The climax is the most egregious misuse of these characters, but I'd respect anyone who claimed it wasn't even the worst, which may rightfully belong to their comic/"comic" musical number, "A Guy Like You," which purports to explain how Quasimodo gets it into his head that a romance with Esmeralda could be possible, and it isn't played nearly intelligently enough for the kind of tragic, psychological work it needs to do.  Instead, it only jams up the film's momentum for upwards of three minutes (Frollo's been out burning Roma and Roma sympathizers in their homes; insert the film's single worst joke, it is in fact upon this subject), and it sits extremely incongruously amidst the rest of Menken and Schwartz's score and soundtrack.  It's the lamest thing here animation-wise by an equal margin: just an excuse for bunch of backdrop and costume jokes, which almost uniformly suckthe solitary exception is, aggravatingly, one of the movie's best single visual notions, in which the cathedral's statues of saints snap their fingers to the beat while still stiffly staring their baleful stares by way of a sort of Gilliamesque/Selickian pseudo-cut-out animation.  It's the one single moment where the sense of half-mad delusion we should be getting for Quasimodo here manifests even slightly.

Menken and Schwartz are solid otherwise, and the rest of Hunchback's music is, indeed, some celebrated stuff, to the notable extent that it seems like most of their individual songs have their own Wikipedia pages.  The majority of their music is very heavy and religious, loaded with Catholic liturgical cues and Latin chant, these elements finding their bravest expression in the invocation of the Confiteor in the aforementioned "Hellfire," though by no means is it their only expression.  (The introductory "Bells of Notre Dame" is nearly as heavy and religious, thanks to them bells.)  Though the most poppified thing here, I'm a fan of "God Help the Outcasts," for its prettiness as well as its spiritual earnestness; I like that the line "God help the outcasts, children of God" is so readily misheard as "God help the outcast children of God," which renders it something of a conundrum, one already proposed (probably on accident) by the lyrics' juxtaposition of the Parisiens' selfish prayers and Esmeralda's prayer for her people's survival, none of which, regardless of merit, God appears to be exactly hurrying to answer.  And there is at least one actual fun showstopper, contra the gargoyles, in Clopin's Festival of Fools montage, "Topsy Turvy," which took years to animate because of the inordinate number of moving parts (it's not a huge song, but it may have more individual shots and individual hand-animated elements than any other four minutes in the film, and it was mainly the effort of one guy whose name I, sadly, forgot to write down).

But the film's reputation rests more than anything else upon "Hellfire," and fair enough.  It has the added benefit of such warped, frightening metaphors for carnality and shameEsmeralda, beheld as a beckoning creature of flames; Frollo, judged by a legion of amorphous, faceless crimson priests; and I personally love the subtlest effects animation of the sequence, setting a not-quite-realist baseline with the distorting haze of the fireplace from which Frollo's mind conjures these visions.  Its biggest problem is that it's too short, and can't really elaborate past its initial batch of images.  (It could be more Ken Russell.)  Its biggest success lies in Jay, whose bass baritone crashes through this song with tortured feeling.  But then, he's been delivering the film's best performance in all respects, not just as its best singer.  (Though he is its best singer by far: Tom Hulce, offering a strong performance otherwise, is a bit rough on the musical frontcharmingly so, maybe, though I daresay "Out There" isn't anyone's favorite "I want" number.  For the record, Moore is perfectly okayand, thankfully, she did not insist on providing her own singing voice, those duties falling to Heidi Mollenhauerand Kline is doing what Phoebus calls for, though I suspect the majority of what I value about Kline's performance is how much it feels like a testbed for his next smug early modern man of adventure in The Road to El Dorado.)

There is, too, the matter of Menken being pretty sophisticated in weaving his melodies in and out of his score as character motifs, and I'm pleased to agree that Hunchback is one of the more lovingly-constructed musicals Disney ever managed, though it will never be a true favorite, as it lacks for the kind of freestanding banger that really ingratiates one to the Disney musical.  Unless you hum "Hellfire" to yourself on no special occasion, which I doubt you do.

Bound up in the music, as usual, is the animation, and I've covered most of the highlights without giving as much credit as I would usually like.  I did name Zielinski, heretofore a specialist in titanic terror, but found here going about as far to other side of the villainous spectrum as possible, at least within the confines of a bombastic family cartoon made in a tradition that demands its villain be nakedly evil, wear black and purple clothing, and ride a night-ebon stallion.  Frollo is theatrical and wonderful, but it's a remarkably human villain Zielinski made here anyway, middle-aged and odd-looking, like he sneered once many years ago and his face froze that way and it hurts to do anything else (though that face remains terrifically fluid in its limited repertoire of cruel expressions); his beady eyes are capable of enormities of fear, hate, ugly lust, and uglier self-revulsion.  I enjoy the production anecdote that Zielinski frequently dressed in a cloak and silly hat to be her own life-reference, and while skinny like her creation, happily she's not as spindly and sickly frail as he is. (There seems some confusion who was the mastermind of "Hellfire," however, whether it be Zielinski or the Brizzi Brothers at Disney France, and it should be mentioned somewhere that this was Disney France's big moment, with significant stretches of animation for Hunchback completed, fittingly enough, in Paris.  As for due credit for "Hellfire," the Brizzis apparently storyboarded it, but certainly the execution bears Zielinski's specific stylethe hefty, crisp figurework on the void-faced monks is her supervision, if not her personal work altogether; there's also the consistency of the acute angles and subtly-distorted "lensing" that attend Frollo throughoutand, in any event, Frollo bears her mark too, the crispest, heftiest creation in the film.  He's just superb.)

The other triumph here, if not at the same level, is James Baxter's supervision of Quasimodo, probably a tough nut to crack given both his asymmetries and surprising agility.  He's extremely sympathetic by default (helped by the abstraction of Disney-style design, which would have a harder time making him viscerally repulsive, but you do get enough of a feel for his unpleasant aspect, before it normalizes, for it to never feel like a pure cheat); and Baxter is willing to use this sympathy to complicate him quite a bit, with dark, brooding, bitter moments even if these are not his "default."  I'm also very impressed by Baxter's King Kong/Charles Laughton's stunt-double bit in the finale, and all the confidence of Quasimodo's brashly-superhuman athleticism that's led up to it.  Tony Fucile's Esmeralda is quite good, too, as is Russ Edmond's Phoebus (Kline's dry sarcasm is perfectly translated into the latter); though between the two characters, if there's a standout moment for them, it belongs to below-the-marquee animator Anne Marie Bardwell, whom I understand is responsible for Esmeralda's dance.  Bardwell was also a character designer, so my expectation is that she's the one who built Esmeralda's dance as a minor masterpiece of CAPS line and color, with her shimmering burgundy dress and the searing quality of the pink border surrounding it.  (And it's maybe more gymnastic than sexy, but it's sexy enough, graded on a Disney scale.)

But it is CAPS, and the layout and design powers of Disney at the height of its Renaissance, where Hunchback's reputation as a great work of animation really rests; and, sorry, past the character animation, I find it one of the least outstanding examples of its industrial method.  By all means, this is a fine-looking film, but there's a lot of tech-demo, "just because we can" ethos in it, starting with the very opening shot that pretends that the 226 foot tall Notre Dame towers above clouds (though I do like this metaphorical touch), and then showily swoops down through Paris and about forty or fifty layers of paintings and animation.  (And even then, winds up having to visibly halt, with a very clunky, very old-fashioned dissolve shot so that Disney's computers wouldn't crash.  Though apparently they often did.)  It's felt, too, in Disney's newly-developed software, Crowds, which did what it said, providing arbitrarily-large computer-generated crowds of six basic human types, who turn out to be pretty distracting in their uncanniness and compositing, which is why they're usually held well out of focus and behind hand-animated figures, who are also out of focus, though in the more angular shots that Notre-Dame de Paris demands, there's no concealing the visible seams between the artistry and the mechanization here.  As for that focusthat is, CAPS's ability to replicate the weaknesses of live-action photography, which some of Disney's directors found very attractive for some heathen reasonit's never as tiresome as The Lion King's fake rack focus, but there's one breathless moment that's worse than anything in it, when Frollo points menacingly towards the camera and his hand exits a "focal plane" that doesn't fucking exist, except as the boundary of a blur tool being applied to Zielinski's wonderful animation, whereupon I wanted to slap the mouse out of somebody's hand.

And then there's badass shots like this, which positively revel in the absence of a camera; isn't that better?

The possibilities Trousdale and Wise are exploiting here can be very action-oriented and exciting; they can also be janky and alienating and just plain unready, with the CGI elements winding up more jarring than they'd been in either Pocahontas or The Lion King, and maybe even Beauty and the Beast.  What all this new technology only occasionally manages to do is make Paris feel big (in fact, the digital "crane shots" make it feel smaller, just a cathedral, a square, and some side streetsno bigger than Belle's podunk village, even, except there's an imposing church now), or the story feel more meaningfully epic.  Oddly, it accomplishes these goals far more fully in the film's interior spaces, like the section of nave in front of Notre Dame's north rose window, or inside its bell tower.

I've got a lot more love for David Goetz's art direction and color styleeven then, there's something preemptively theme-parked about this early modern Paris that I don't adorebut Goetz is doing some swell things with lightly expressionistic color (and Frollo's scenes' frequent leeching of color), as well as with the less hubristic things CAPS allowed, like taking a full scene through a beautiful orange-and-purple sunset into dusk.  There's a splendid such scene, with Quasimodo and Esmeralda, that does more work on behalf of his hopes than fifty gargoyle songs could have achieved.  But, of course, even one was too manyyou might not remember this, but the beautiful, otherwise-dialogue-free denouement of Quasimodo's internal and external struggles is actually concluded with a gargoyle yelling at a pigeon.  And so the last line of this serious film about, Jesus, outcasts, winds up being "don't you ever migrate?!"  There's no telling how highly I would rate The Hunchback of Notre Dame, if instead of one gargoyle song, and three gargoyles, there were no gargoyle songs and no gargoyles.  But it would be a quantifiable improvement.

Score: 7/10

*I, of course, will use the polite and correct term "Roma" here; the movie inevitably uses "Gypsy" as it is a product of 1996 made in American English, which is, furthermore, dramatizing events in France in 1482.  I doubt politeness would have been much on the early modern French mind, and we could safely assume that all our French-speaking principals would be using "Gitan," "Gitane," and "Gitans" (unrelated to the British slang term, "git," incidentally, though the mind-blower is that "Roma" is in no way related etymologically to "Romania"; it points to the Roma's origins, not in Egypt as "Gypsy" does, but northern India).  In any case, I obviously look forward to the live-action remake that has the villain punctiliously refer to the people he wishes to variously kill or rape as "Roma" or "Romany."
**Pocahontas does it: bad.  Hunchback of Notre Dame does it: good?  Oh, I see.  It's a matter of how much you like the movie, as usual, got it.
***Of course, I would have liked it more if "Quasimodo's giant pot of molten lead" had been established in this movie, and not decades earlier, in the 1923 and 1939 movies from which it's been lifted.


  1. One of the things that make Judge Claude Frollo such an intriguing viper’s nest in the form of a man is that, in many ways, his Personal Crisis is founded as much on a struggle between his foundational Sin (Pride) and the exciting new Sin that popped up at Esmeralda’s spear dance (aka Lust) as it is on any kind of clash between Sin and Morality.

    In other words I can actually believe that he was the sort of Medieval Zealot who made his personal chastity a point of Pride - it’s right there in his Villain song - and would rather wreck hideous damage upon various quarters of Paris than pursue more human avenues towards the satisfaction of his fleshy lusts, even in the throes of a horrifying midlife crisis.

    God help me, if he were even more of a hypocrite the villain might arguably be LESS Dangerous.

    1. I can dig that interpretation.

      You know, I do appreciate that they at least kept his name in this one. It's really very silly that the 1923 and 1939 ones don't just give Frollo his new job, but basically just expand the role of his brother Jehan until he's taken Claude's place, while Claude is the good ol' Archdeacon of Josas.