Origin: The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
I really had no desire to see this movie. Bad reviews for one. For another, it just didn’t seem possible for Disney to take something rooted in macabre horror and social injustice as Hunchback and do… anything with it. And I was fairly right. This movie has some good art, but lacks any memorability. Including Judge Frollo. For some reason, all the Internet Geeks think he has one of the best Villain Songs and is one of the most… sigh… hottest cartoon males AS VOTED ON by an informal Facebook poll. (I worry about humanity.)
Me? I don’t see the appeal. Nostalgia goggles make him a mature villain with mature themes, but any credit for that goes directly to Victor Hugo, not Disney. I find myself comparing him to Inspector Javert, another famous Hugo antagonist (and one of my favorite characters of all time). Both are men with no mercy, who do merciless acts in the name of justice and God. They have no compassion, only ambition towards a goal.
But Frollo just seems robotic. We only get a glimpse of what he could be (ex. using words like “Hell” and “strumpet”, lustful temptation, religious hypocrisy), but none of it goes anywhere. I just can’t take Frollo seriously as a threat. Javert worked because he was a soldier, not a leader. Javert takes orders from a higher source and assumes the responsibility for executing them. Frollo always seems ignored or at least two inches away from a rebellion. And he blames everyone but himself when things go wrong.
Motivation: I think this is a big factor towards my dislike of Frollo as a villain. His only clear goal is to kill gypsies. But we have no idea why. It seems to have something to do with gypsies not being a pure race, but Wikipedia says most European Romani were Christian.
Does Frollo want to be virtuous? That might explain why he saves Quasimodo (in the book, this makes more sense because he has no family of his own). But nothing he does afterwards explains it, since he keeps him isolated the rest of his, except for occasional purposeless visits. Frollo certainly has no interest in sin atonement, because he’s got a Hitler woody out for those gypsies the rest of the movie. And the archdeacon — the “voice of God” — keeps admonishing him for his transgressions.
Does he want power? Doesn’t seem to, never shows any ambition for it. He’s already got it, anyway.
Does he want Esmeralda? Clearly, yes, but to what ends does he go to get her? He kills her entire family on a city-wide manhunt. Then once he has her, he demands that either she marries him or gets burned at the stake. What is his logic? If she say yes, he’s going to have to explain to the citizens why the same person he tried to burn as a witch is his new wife. If she says no, then no one gets what they want. In the book (also according to Wikipedia, so mileage may vary), Frollo experiences the same jealousy, the same conflict of church vs. lust. But that makes more sense because he’s an archdeacon, not a judge.
Character Strengths: The movie makes it look like Frollo is in charge of the entirety of Paris. I know this can’t be true (another continuity error against him). He doesn’t even do any judging. Is he even a judge? He watches the “Festival of Fools” because… he’s forced to? Why? He doesn’t have a role to take in it.
He teaches Quasimodo some alphabet, some religious knowledge because… why? Is he going to college later? It seems like he’s a public figure, one the captain of the guards answers to, but he’s clearly not a town leader. Not a good one, at least. Even Disney isn’t sure who this character is. They’re trying to shove one persona into another’s body. I’m more worried about Frollo’s horse than Frollo.
Evilness: If I was giving individual ratings for each criteria, Frollo’s evil factor would get five stars. In the first scene he’s hunting down a gypsy for no reason other than extreme prejudice. He kills her (somewhat accidentally), then discovers she was carrying a baby. When he discovers it’s deformed (although who knows what he would have done with it if it was normal) he almost throws the abomination in a well (which would have poisoned the town — nice job almost breaking it, hero). But by some divine inspiration, he changes his mind and decides to spare him. THEN LOCKS HIM IN A BELL TOWER FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE. That’s the first five minutes.
There’s not an inch of kindness or mercy on this guy. He rules through divine right, yet is completely hypocritical about it, only choosing to follow the rules when they suit his needs. He claims to have morals and values, but ignores them when his base desires rise (murdering people to find gypsies, threatening Esmerelda to be his slave). He’s a sociopath — he feels guilty for what he’s done, but has no compunction about doing it again, like a pedophile. His fearsomeness comes from the fact that of all the villains, he’s the most realistic.
Tools: Frollo’s got the city’s army on his side, but their allegiance seems tenuous at best. The city riots and everything goes to pot. His one important subordinate betrays him midway through, who then leads the gypsies and citizens against his government soldiers. It’s anarchy, and all Frollo cares about is getting into the cathedral.
Complement to the Hero: Another big problem is that Quasimodo is as discombobulated as his antagonist. He falls into the Disney Princess trap, in that all he wants is… more. Frollo’s kept Quasimodo hidden away this entire time, but when he’s tortured at the Festival of Fools, he appears completely justified. It’s not until Esmeralda shows up that he gets called out. Then Quasimodo gets used like a tool to find her. (This part isn’t that bad actually).
The problem is that Quasimodo has all the personality of a wet blanket. He looks like a Batman villain and acts like a Broadway superstar. I guess there’s an “ugly-on-the-inside” thing going on, but Frollo’s not that attractive in the first place (unless you believe NChick). But at least he’s not a villain that just floats out there, with no connection to the hero.
Fatal Flaw: You would think that his fatal flaw would have been his self-righteousness, or his hypocrisy in spite of his guilt (repeats of the “mea culpa” test to that effect). Or I could make a joke about his inability to hang onto stone structures. But the movie would have you believe that it’s because Quasimodo made friends. They both fall, but while Frollo falls into Hell the pool of molten copper and burnt cathedral, Phoebus catches Quasimodo (an action which should have yanked his arms out of his sockets).
Maybe there’s something to that — tying into the “what makes a monster and what makes a man” theme. I guess the problem is that Frollo is a complex character, but Disney attempts to make his downfall the result of one action (or inaction) to keep it simple for the kids. At least it’s a little more theatrical than the book ending, with swords and Latin chanting and fire.
Except that it’s preceded by a rip-off of the Beauty & the Beast mob fight with those fucking gargoyles.
Method of Defeat/Death: After Frollo runs up the cathedral tower, Quasimodo disarms him (once he figures out the movie’s moral) then flees with Esmeralda. Frollo finds him hanging off the roof and tries to chop him with a sword. Quasimodo tarzans away, but Frollo catches up. Then for some reason he throws his cloak over Quasimodo’s head to knock him off balance. This backfires as Quasimodo grabs the coat and they both fall.
Esmeralda holds onto Quasimodo’s hand while Frollo regains his poise on a statue outcropping. He holds his sword up like a samurai warrior.
Then the stone cracks and Frollo, who has the worst balance in the world (the stone didn’t even move!) falls off, but grabs onto the statue. The eyes glow red (I don’t know why, the statue just seems like a cat or something, not the judging eyes of Jesus), the stone breaks, and he falls into the surface of the sun.
Final Rating: Three stars