This is probably one of the lesser-known Disney films, compared to films like Cinderella and Snow White. It also falls into the category of not being a “princess” story as such, so it doesn’t get quite so much media coverage nowadays. But you’ve all heard of this film’s protagonist, a deformed man named Quasimodo, who lives in the bell-tower of Paris’ landmark cathedral: Notre Dame. He lives a solitary life, a very lonely one, and his only real friends are gargoyles. Watching this film as an adult was very different to watching it as a child, as it has some very controversial themes and issues. Let’s have a look at those in greater detail.
In Medieval Paris, some gypsies (or Roma, as we’d call them today) are fleeing for their lives from the racist authorities, who want to get rid of them. They are carrying a baby – Quasimodo. In the chase, Quasimodo’s mother is killed. He himself is almost murdered by the film’s villain, an evil judge called Frollo. However, a preacher from Notre Dame comes out just in time to stop the baby’s murder. Frollo, who believes himself to be highly religious, is told to atone for his sins by raising the baby. 20 years later, Quasimodo is confined to the church’s bell tower, and works as the bell-ringer. He talks to gargoyles, who in his imagination talk back to him, and his hobby is making wooden figures of the world outside.
He’s not allowed to leave the church, so when the annual Festival of Fools takes place right under his nose, Quasimodo longs for freedom. When he manages to leave for a little while, he gets crowned for being the ugliest face in Paris, but is ridiculed by the crowd once they realise his disability is not fake. The kind Gypsy dancer Esmarelda stops this and befriends him, but Judge Frollo sees him with her and punishes Quasimodo. Frollo hates Gypsies and wants to rid the city of them, and Quasimodo’s conflict between his new-found friend and his master begins.
Quasimodo is kind but naïve, and believes his master to be a good man. His master also believes himself to be a good/religious man, and thinks everything he does is God’s will. However, he’s an unusually complicated villain for Disney. He is torn between his religious beliefs and his lustful feelings of desire for Esmarelda, which makes for possibly the creepiest Disney villain ever. It must be because most other Disney villains are one-dimensional and their motivations are pretty obvious and quite general in nature. Esmeralda herself is fiery and stands up for what is right, and is no damsel in distress. She is also very streetwise and has some cool fighting moves.
From watching this film, you’ll see a number of important life lessons. First and foremost, it teaches us that disability is not something to be mocked, but to be understood. Seems like an obvious thing, but you’d be surprised. Nothing like a good Disney film to make us sympathise with “flawed” or imperfect heroes! It also stresses the importance of beauty coming from within, because it’s not like a lot of other films, in which the heroes are perfect inside and out. Lastly, it teaches us the importance of “good” in religion. After all, it’s no use claiming to be religious, whilst being a bad person at the same time. That way, you might become like Frollo. So, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is worth watching for the simple reason it is very deep, and has some crucially important moral lessons
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