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Comments about the soundtrack for The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Alan Menken)

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Filmtracks Sponsored Donated Review
• Posted by: Jon Turner   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Thursday, September 4, 2008, at 7:09 p.m.
• IP Address:

(The following donated review by Jon Turner was moved by Filmtracks to this comment section in September, 2008)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame: (Alan Menken) Alan Menken's score for Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame has not been given the acclaim it deserves. Many critics and Disney fans have panned it, with results ranging from \"the worst songs in a Disney animated film,\" \"a ripoff of Beauty and the Beast,\" to \"Joyless and unmemorable.\" In addition to such insults, it was rejected and passed over by many audiences, people, critics, and fans. Consequently, it is now one of the most underrated Disney soundtracks ever. This is unfortunate, because The Hunchback Of Notre Dame is arguably Alan Menken's finest score he has ever done, perhaps surpassing that of Beauty and the Beast. I enjoyed the movie very much, and this soundtrack was one of the partial reasons why.

What makes this score so magnificent? In order to answer that question, let's look at the soundtrack from a different point of view --that of a reviewer who is diagnosed with Aspberger's Syndrome and identified with the main character, Quasimodo, since he learned how to fit \"out there,\" similar to this same reviewer. This is a score that works beautifully with a powerful film that has captured a place in my heart --mainly because it reminds me of how I learned to fit in the outside world. :) With that out of the way, let's take a look at each of the songs (I rarely do this in my reviews, but for The Hunchback of Notre Dame, I'll make an exception), and see how each of these stand out.

\"The Bells Of Notre Dame\" --This tuneful number introduces us to the bells of Notre Dame, with divinely written lyrics (courtesy of Stephen Schwartz) which make us feel the power of the story. Paul Kandel, singing as Clopin, the gypsy leader and the story's narrator, lends a performance that is magical and stirring; his voice, along with the lyrical music and dark tone, set the stage for a dark adventure. Then, he begins to tell us the tale, \"the tale of a man and a monster.\" Here, the music becomes more dramatic, and we are introduced to another remarkable vocal performance --that of Tony Jay, who brings to life a villainous, cold hearted Judge Frollo. His voice is very deep and sinister, and it contrasts menacingly with the music, especially when he sings his verse. Another surprise cameo is from David Ogden Steirs (who we know as Cogsworth from Beauty and the Beast and Ratcliffe in Pocahontas), who lends a gentle, although similarly powerful, performance (he's the Archdeacon in this one). Take all these ingredients together, along with a very furious (and impressive) choir singing depressing notes and chanting \"Dies irae\" at one of the most exciting moments of the song, and you have a song that gets you prepared for a journey you'll never forget. And the ending where the chorus and Clopin come to a great finale is truly dazzling.

\"Out There\" --This number starts out on a dark level, where Frollo sings (to Quasimodo) about how 'cruel' and 'wicked' the world is. This part is one of the most powerful moments in the soundtrack, not just because he casts a spell over Quasi into believing that he should never join the human world, but over us as well. The highlight of this section is where Frollo starts to sing about how much of a 'monster' Quasi is, and our main character (given a very sympathetic performance by Tom Hulce), very much under Frollo's influence, sings along with him. This is a truly terrifying moment. But then, the terrifying moment fades away to lead us to the true motives of Quasimodo, yearning to be \"out there, strolling by the Seine.\" The music here is very stirring and uplifting. And Hulce really shows off his singing style (He holds a long note at the end of the song). From thinking about how I desired to be a part of the world, I felt my heart go soft at this song. The combination of a dark intro and a 'happier' number, make this another highlight to Hunchback's score.

\"Topsy Turvy\" --What is a lighthearted, celebrational song doing in the middle of a dark score? Most people seemed to ask this question (and pan the score for this reason), but in my opinion, a song of this type is welcome even in a dark movie. This delightful number is not just unnecessary comic relief. It is supposed to contrast with a festival that plays a part in the film (namely, the Feast Of Fools, as they'll tell you in the beginning), and this number works greatly. Really bouncy and tuneful, with a medieval dance intro and a furious dance interlude halfway in between. The highlight of this song is where Clopin says \"Everybody!\", holding each of the syllables of this word, and then we have a great finale.

\"God Help The Outcasts\" --This is one of the most touching moments in the soundtrack. We have a beautiful vocalist (Heidi Mollenhauer, singing as Esmeralda) praying for, as the song indicates, the outcasts. This is a beautiful number, and even tear jerking (I almost cried during this song. No, really, I did!). This song also makes a point. There are outcasts even to this day. And to hear a prayer, be it in words, or songs, about a hopeful future of the children of God is very touching and uplifting. If this song doesn't make you feel how I felt during this song, well, that's a shame! This is the most beautiful song Menken has ever done. The final track, which is a pop version performed by Bette Midler, is also nicely done.

\"Heaven's Light/Hellfire\" --\"So many times out there, I've watched a happy pair,\" sings Quasimodo on the first third of this track (which is actually two songs in one). Here, Quasimodo has just experienced friendship (well, love, actually) for the first time in his life, and because of that, his \"dark, cold tower sings so bright.\" This is another tearjerker. Ah, the joys of having a friend; such a joy that can't be better described in any form, except for Quasimodo's song. The bells ring, and then we have another chorus interlude (here, we get the feeling we're in a church). Then, we head to a darker side which involves someone who also has emotions about Esmeralda (whom Quasi has fallen in love with) -- and evil thoughts at that. That someone is Frollo. \"Hellfire\" is arguably the most horrifying moment in the whole soundtrack. Many people have objected to seeing this scene in the film (mainly because some were questioning whether the film is a kid's film), but I find it impressive that Disney is attempting to try out an 'adult' number. No, this number is definitely not for kids, as the lyrics in the song are quite disturbing. The gloomy atmosphere of the music and the truly scary emotion make this song a track that deserves to be applauded as one of Menken's (and Disney's) daring experiments.

\"A Guy Like You\" --This is the most underrated of the songs, perhaps because it is a comic number. This not just a comic number created for kid's sake (true, it's sung by three comic gargoyles, but I found them to be a delight and not ruin the whole atmosphere of the movie). No, this song is rather a false prediction. In the film, the gargoyles have predicted that Esmeralda, too, is in love with Quasimodo, and the saddest part about this is that she is not. This is a rather 'human' song, due to the way it portrays people making false predictions about something they hope are true when they really aren't. Musically, it's written somewhere along the lines of \"Be Our Guest,\" only its less show stopping and more comical. Yes, comical, but also effective since it makes us feel regretful that the prediction made in this song is totally incorrect. Those who criticize this song for being the worst number on the soundtrack should care to ponder this point.

\"The Court Of Miracles\" --Hunchback's songs serve more as a purpose to tell the story rather than just entertain people (like the Broadway musical Les Miserables does), and this number is no exception. It's meant to go along with the event where Quasi and Phoebus stumble into the gypsies hideout, only to be accused as Frollo's spies and sentenced to hang (but of course, that doesn't happen). Clopin returns once again to deliver another effective --and humorous-- performance on this song, particularly when he communicates with his hand puppet. Also listen closely to how the song ends --it's very cleverly done. \"Someday\" -- Just like \"God Help The Outcasts\" prays for the sake of those unfortunate people who are neglected, this end title pop ballad prays for a future for humanity. This is a very nice number, enhanced by a wonderful group of performers (All-4-One).

Now, let's talk about the score. It masterfully recaptures the gothic, dark spirit of the movie, even though it has innuendoes of a modern Broadway era. It's dark, all right, but it's also lovely and touching at times, particularly \"The Bell Tower\" and \"Into The Sunlight.\" This emotional shift is enhanced greatly by a chorus, who basically chant out Latin lyrics, such as \"Dies irae\" and \"Agnus Dei\" and other phrases you'd find in a Requiem text. That same chorus is present during the action cues, which recall the action chorus-dominated cues from Basil Poledouris' Conan The Barbarian. It's grand that Disney is trying out a score like this, and Menken deserves great credit for delivering it. The addition of a church organ is also a remarkable plus. It gives the feeling that we are in a Church at times, while it enhances the dramatic power of the music. In fact, the organ, and the chorus, make this score sing and make it all the more worthy of an Academy Award. (It's too bad that Menken failed to get the Academy Award for Best Score on Hunchback, even though he was nominated for it; this score is deserving of one.) Awards aside, however, this score helps give the film the dark, yet dazzling nature it requires.

The album release may be typical Disney album formula, but it's one of the finest. All the best cues from the film are included, and there is no feeling of missing music (even though it's not the complete soundtrack), which makes the album recommended as well. Finally, I'm all finished with my praises on Menken's Hunchback of Notre Dame score. It deserves to be given another chance, especially when one takes it into consideration about how well it works with the film. In spite of my favorable praises, however, I doubt that anybody will give this soundtrack another chance, as some folks still continue to pummel it to this day. I however, admire this score greatly, and it will always hold a special place in my heart. *****

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