MUSICAL MONDAY PRESENTS:
DISNEY FANATIC #1
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Walt Disney Productions became the first American studio to produce an animated full-length feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), and made its mark by recreating classical Western fairy tales. Despite stumbling clumsily through the late 70s and 80s, they regained their composure and became bigger than ever in the 90s.
I had the privilege of my childhood being right alongside the "Disney Renaissance", a period of incredible films made by Disney during the 90s, beginning with The Little Mermaid (1993) and fizzling out by the end of the decade with mediocre movies like Tarzan (1999). It is unfortunate that Walt himself did not get to see this period.
This decade gave Disney the opportunity to mix darker themes with their fantasy but sometimes things did not work out. A perfect example is The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996). The film suffers from several Disney cliches, that post-Pocahontas (1996) had invaded the films. From the annoying sidekicks that immediately eject the audience from a grim scene to goofy and obnoxious farce to musical numbers that were just plain bad.
On the flipside, there were characters with extremely deep and controversial conflicts like the Hunchbacks's villain, Judge Claude Frollo, performed incredibly by veteran voice actor Tony Jay. The song that drags Hunchback from the brink of forgotten nostalgia is Hellfire.
Undeniably, Hellfire is the best of the Disney Villain Songs. I was never much of a Hunchback fan but, after rediscovering this song last year, Hellfire won me over to giving the movie some more consideration.
The villain of the film, Frollo, struggles with incredibly complex motivations. In this song, we see damning religious and dogmatic imagery set against sexual tension and desire. Frollo is torn between his attraction for Esmerelda and her refusal to submit to him. He vents this frustration between lust and hate, deciding that if he cannot have her, the fires of hell should instead. It is so incredible powerful and it is scenes like this that show the purely impressive and adult story telling that Disney is capable of.
I hope that there is a second Disney Renaissance in my lifetime, and that this one explores the potential of tackling more adult stories through their incredible 2D animation.