Friday, March 04, 2005

Disney's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" Opening Sequence

Most Disney adaptations are eyesores compared to their source materials. Replete with fundamental story differences and childish embellishments, complete with the almost-mandatory comic-relief sidekick, it may have been a good thing they finally dissolved their traditional animation division last year.

However, elements of these adaptations do shine through the commercial money-making machine that Disney animations had become. One such masterpieces was found, I believe, in the opening sequence of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." I think it has to be one of the most powerful musical introductions I've ever seen on screen, up there with Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas".

It's not just the style of the telling of the story in music that I enjoyed very much, but the heavy cultural themes they put in. Traditional choral elements rang heavy through the entire sequence, adulterated to good effect by Hollywood-typecast heavy instruments. What I especially liked was the choral Latin lyrics, whose meaning I discovered only after a brief Google.

Sheikh Hamza Yusuf mentions such a thing about ancient languages, how they ring in the ear and "feel" more powerful than modern languages. I completely agree, and I find such languages as Latin and Hebrew and Classical Arabic absolutely astounding in their beauty and tremendous ability to resonate with the soul, even when one barely understands what it says.

As such, I paste here, what I believe to be among the best opening musical sequences dedicated to storytelling I have ever seen. It would be through great inspiration and talent that any individual can reproduce such an effect on a listener, should one ever wish to embark upon such a task:

Morning in Paris, the city awakes
To the bells of Notre Dame
The fisherman fishes, the bakerman bakes
To the bells of Notre Dame
To the big bells as loud as the thunder
To the little bells soft as a psalm
And some say the soul of the city's
The toll of the bells
The bells of Notre Dame

Listen, they're beautiful, no?
So many colors of sound, so many changing moods
Because you know, they don't ring all by themselves
- They don't? -
No, silly boy.
Up there, high, high in the dark bell tower
lives the mysterious bell ringer.
Who is this creature - Who? -
What is he? - What? -
How did he come to be there - How? -
Hush, and Clopin will tell you
It is a tale, a tale of a man and a monster.

Dark was the night when our tale was begun
On the docks near Notre Dame

Man #1: 
Shup it up, will you!

Man #2: 
We'll be spotted!

Hush, little one.

Four frightened gypsies slid silently under
The docks near Notre Dame

Man #3: 
Four guilders for safe passage into Paris

But a trap had been laid for the gypsies
And they gazed up in fear and alarm
At a figure whose clutches
Were iron as much as the bells

Man #4: 
Judge Claude Frollo

The bells of Notre Dame

Kyrie Eleison (Latin: Lord have mercy)

Judge Claude Frollo longed
To purge the world
Of vice and sin

Kyrie Eleison (Lord have mercy)

And he saw corruption
Except within

Bring these gypsy vermin to the palace of justice

You there, what are you hiding?

Stolen goods, no doubt. Take them from her

She ran

Dies irae, dies illa (Day of wrath, that day)
Solvet saeclum in favilla (Shall consume the world in ashes)
Teste David cum sibylla (As prophesied by David and the sibyl)
Quantus tremor est futurus (What trembling is to be)
Quando Judex est venturus (When the Judge is come)

Sanctuary, please give us sanctuary

A baby? A monster!


Cried the Archdeacon

This is an unholy deamon.
I'm sending it back to hell, where it belongs.

See there the innocent blood you have spilt
On the steps of Notre Dame

I am guiltless. She ran, I pursued.

Now you would add this child's blood to your guilt
On the steps of Notre Dame

My conscience is clear

You can lie to yourself and your minions
You can claim that 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

Kyrie Eleison (Lord have mercy)

And for one time in his live
Of power and control

Kyrie Eleison (Lord have mercy)

Frollo felt a twinge of fear
For his immortal soul

What must I do?

Care for the child, and raise it as your own

What? I'd be settled with this misshapen ..?
Very well. Let him live with you, in your church.

Live here? Where?

Just so he's kept locked away
Where no one else can see
The bell tower, perhaps
And who knows, our Lord works in mysterious ways
Even this foul creature may
Yet prove one day to be
Of use to me

And Frollo gave the child a cruel name
A name that means half-formed, Quasimodo
Now here is a riddle to guess if you can
Sing the bells of Notre Dame
Who is the monster and who is the man?

Clopin and Chorus: 
Sing the bells, bells, bells, bells
Bells, bells, bells, bells
Bells of Notre Dame

A minor note: the voice of the archdeacon is actually David Ogden-Stiers. Don't remember him? Major Charles Emerson Winchester, from M*A*S*H!

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I write essays in my spare time on things that are important to me. The ones that I feel are any good, or make any sense, I put them up here. :)