The Hunchback of Notre Dame is Disney’s thirty-fourth animated feature film and focuses on the story of Quasimodo, a hunchbacked and deformed bellringer living in the Notre Dame Cathedral. It’s based (dare I say loosely? The endings are completely different – it’s Disney, after all) on the book by Victor Hugo (who also wrote Les Miserables) and although our ‘princess’, Esmeralda, doesn’t end up with the protagonist, she does play an important role in a film that explores racism, bigotism, and mob mentalities.
The book is set in 1482 and I don’t know enough about European or French history to confirm if the film is as well. It certainly has a 15th century feel to it and the irrational hatred of gypsies reminds me of the Christian’s response to the Jews in Venice circa 1600. Esmeralda is a young gypsy dancer, and being utterly gorgeous she helplessly seems to attract the attention of all sorts of men. She’s also fiercely independent, strong-willed, quick-witted with an acid tongue: all good traits to have in a heroine.
When she attracts the attention of Frollo, the paedo ugly evil old judge of Paris (and Quasi’s captor mentor evil bastard surrogate father), she also incurs his wrath by openly defying him and rescuing Quasi in his very first time outside the Cathedral. When Frollo orders her arrest, she not only kicks all their asses and escapes, but takes refuge in the Notre Dame Cathedral, and when Captain Feeble Phoebus enters to arrest her, she kicks his ass. Literally. OK, not literally, but she does defeat him in armed combat, which is pretty awesome for an uneducated, untrained gypsy dancer from the streets. See why I love her?
To save her life, Captain Feeble says that she claimed sanctuary, which inside the church protects gypsies from evil bastards. That’s where Quasi’s mother was trying to go at the beginning of the film when Frollo stopped her. Also, inside the cathedral is the only place the Archdeacon has authority over Frollo, and he basically tells Frollo to fuck off and leave Esmeralda alone. Frollo posts guards at all the exits, trapping her inside the Cathedral. Esmeralda thinks she’s going to catch claustrophobia so she sings a song to God. Then she discovers this is where Quasimodo lives and they bond.
Quasimodo helps Esmeralda escape the Cathedral. Frollo starts experiencing ‘man reactions’ to thoughts about her and sings a song about how she’s a witch seducing him, you know, with her sexy dancing and her pretty eyes, and her absolute hatred of him. Convinced his ‘man reactions’ are unnatural he decides to burn down the city looking for her. Yeah, it makes sense, I know. Esmeralda runs across Captain Feeble being heroic and heroically injured, and saves his life, taking him back to Quasimodo because, you know, she can’t take her new boyfriend to the Court of Miracles because he’s… what… blonde? But she trusts the hunchback enough to tell him how to find the Court… which is exactly what they do when Frollo announces he is attacking it at dawn.
Because Quasi and Captain Feeble can’t tell when they’re being manipulated, they inadvertently lead Frollo’s guard to the Court of Miracles where Esmeralda is captured. Frollo offers to make her his mistress, and when she politely refuses by spitting in his face (great aim!) he burns her at the stake. Well, Quasi doesn’t like that (because he’s fallen in love with her) so he rescues her and climbs the Notre Dame Cathedral a la King Kong with his beauty in his arms. Frollo lays siege to the Cathedral while Captain Feeble, the gypsies, and the civilians who have realised Frollo is an asshole try to defend her. After a tussle high above the crowd, Quasi saves Esmeralda, Esmeralda tries to save Quasi, Frollo falls to his death which is entirely his own fault, and then Feeble finally shows some kind of use besides being Esmeralda’s love interest and saves Quasi’s life. Esmeralda and Captain Feeble receive Quasimodo’s blessing, which is really sweet of him because he’s totally in love with her as well.
It makes me wonder. The Disney heroines always end up with the good-looking blokes. Even when Belle fell in love with the Beast, he turned back into the human Prince; when Tiana fell in love with Naveen the frog, he turned back into the Prince; and Jasmine chose handsome Aladdin even though he wasn’t a prince. So my question is: could Esmeralda have ended up with Quasimodo? I certainly expected it when I was a child. I was conditioned to believe the hero of the piece could get any girl he wanted, even if she was beyond his means (sweet Belle, royal Jasmine, hard-working Tiana). Disney dramatically changed the ending: how hard would it have been to write in a Quasi-Esmeralda romance?
No, I won’t show the Esmeralda-Captain Feeble kiss, because I am protesting their relationship. I like to pretend she dumps him and goes running back to Quasi to send the audience a message of, “It doesn’t matter what you look like, it’s what inside that counts.” i.e. “It doesn’t matter if you’re born horrifically deformed and have no self-esteem, even the most beautiful and lusted after girl in Paris can still fall in love with you.”
No? You still want the picture? Fine.