Random Musings: Analysis of Hellfire (or Disney, Can You Do That Again?)

Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of the best Disney movies in my opinion. It’s also one of the darkest. The antagonist, Judge Claude Frollo (in Victor Hugo’s original book, he’s an Archdeacon), is a complex character, and his signature song, Hellfire, is deep in imagery that kids just flat out don’t catch when they are kids. In fact, I never caught any of this stuff until I started learning Catholic stuff, which just makes this song all the more deeper.

In the movie, the song starts in the evening with the priests and monks doing Mass (the movie says Vespers, but the Confiteor only appears at Mass and the priest is wearing a chasuble plus the Kyrie appears after the Confiteor so I’ll just give Disney props for actually using the word Vespers lol). At the same time, Frollo is wrestling with his feelings and literally starts praying. It is however, a sick prayer. Let’s take a look:

Lyrics:

Priests and Monks: 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)

Frollo: Beata Maria (Blessed Mary), you know I am a righteous man
Of my virtue I am justly proud
Priests and Monks: Et tibit Pater
(And to you, Father)

Frollo:Beata Maria, you know I’m so much purer than
The common, vulgar, weak, licentious crowd
Priests and Monks: Quia peccavi nimis
(That I have sinned)

Frollo: Then tell me, Maria, why I see her dancing there?
Why her smold’ring eyes still scorch my soul
Priests and Monks: Cogitatione
(In thought)

Frollo: I feel her, I see her, the sun caught in raven hair
Is blazing in me out of all control
Priests and Monks: Verbo et opere
(In word and deed)

Frollo: Like fire, Hellfire
This fire in my skin
This burning desire
Is turning me to sin
It’s not my fault

Priests and Monks: Mea culpa
(Through my fault)
Frollo: I’m not to blame
Priests and Monks: Mea culpa
(Through my fault)

Frollo: It is the gypsy girl
The witch who sent this flame
Priests and Monks: Mea maxima culpa
(Through my most grievous fault)
Frollo: It’s not my fault
Priests and Monks: Mea culpa
(Through my fault)

Frollo: If in God’s plan
Priests and Monks: Mea culpa
(Through my fault)
Frollo: He made the devil so much
Stronger than a man
Priests and Monks: Mea maxima culpa
(Through my most grievous fault)

Frollo: Protect me, Maria
Don’t let this siren cast her spell
Don’t let her fire sear my flesh and bone
Destroy Esmeralda
And let her taste the fires of hell
Or else let her be mine and mine alone

Soldier: Minister Frollo, the gypsy has escaped
Frollo: What?

Soldier: No longer in the cathedral, she’s gone
Frollo: But how? Never mind, get out, you idiot
I’ll find her, I’ll find her if I have to burn down all of Paris

Frollo: Hellfire, dark fire
Now gypsy, it’s your turn
Choose me or your pyre
Be mine or you will burn

Priests and Monks: Kyrie Eleison
(Lord, have mercy)
Frollo: God, have mercy on her
Priests and Monks: Kyrie Eleison
(Lord, have mercy)

Frollo: God, have mercy on me
Priests and Monks: Kyrie Eleison
(Lord, have mercy)
Frollo: But she will be mine
Or she will burn

Frollo sees himself as doing the right thing, but his hubris in his righteousness is what brings him to evil. In fact, his initial lyrics are the antithesis of the prayers the priests and monks are saying.

While the priests and monks are confessing to God, Mary, the angels, and saints about their sins, Frollo starts his prayer by stating how much better he is than everyone else. When he admits and questions his lust for Esmeralda, he in essence lines up with the priests and monks admitting their sin in thought, word, and deed.

When the Confiteor reaches the ever so famous Mea culpa, Frollo instead states that he is not to blame for his faults. He blames his lust for Esmeralda on her existence, not his own faults.

He then states the greatest and probably most evil line a Disney villain (or any movie villain) could ever say:

“It’s not my fault if in God’s plan, he made the Devil so much stronger than a man.”

That line is immediately contrasted with Mea maxima culpa, my most grievous fault.

He then asks Mary for her protection from sin, but then he prays for Esmeralda’s destruction. He asks Mary, Mother of Mercy, our life, sweetness, and hope, for the destruction of a fellow human being; he asks that she go to hell. And if not, he asks that she be his and his alone. He identifies Esmeralda as the devil and blames his lust on her and not himself.

By this time, Frollo has already sold his soul to temptation. His hubris in seeing himself as the only source of justice in Paris led him to believe that his actions are infallible. He is the pinnacle of “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

He then gives up on praying. In the beginning of the song, even though he is full of pride, he is asking for protection. In the end, he states the ultimatum:

“Choose me or your pyre; be mine or you will burn.”

He then lines up with the priests and monks for one last, yet twisted way. He asks for mercy for Esmeralda and himself while the Kyrie is being said. In a way he is admitting he is succumbing to temptation, but instead of asking for the strength to fight it, he is going ahead with it and asking for mercy anyway.

“She will be mine or she will burn.”

This song shows Frollo’s downfall. His prayers are immediate contrasts to the teachings of Holy Mother Church, and yet he truly considers himself to be right. It’s what makes him such an interesting villain.

Let us not take pride in our righteous deeds. We do what is right because it is right for us, God, and each other. Let us ask God for strength to fight our temptations, because we are indeed so much stronger than the Devil.

Let us not be Frollo.

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