As we look back on a Disney lifetime from yesteryear, it has come to my attention that there is an overlooked film that does not get the credit that it deserves. With such a raw look at the 15th century, it seems that Disney was really trying to step outside of its element with The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
It tells the dark tale of a deformed hunchback, Quasimodo, who attempts to find love and meaning in a prejudiced world that refuses to accept him. However, that all changes when a beautiful French Roma girl named Esmeralda shows him caring and compassion. Quasimodo is filled with love and hope due to Esmeralda’s kindness.
Here is what makes this the best film Disney has ever put into animation.
Disney uniquely explores the darker themes and Gothic elements presented in the source material, the Victor Hugo novel of the same name. This is somewhat unusual for a Disney film. While it might be uncomfortable for some viewers of the old Disney legends, this was a great step forward in terms of dark and moody storytelling. It departs from the happy-go-lucky Disney films that always managed to have a cheerful tone for the majority of their runtime. The films normally do not descend too deeply into explorations of lust, infanticide, and bigotry. It’s incredibly interesting to see Disney work with such dark material from an even darker source material.
Disney has made a lot of classics about able-bodied princes and princesses. But here, Disney truly went hard when they made this film about a young man with a terminal and severe case of kyphosis. Quasi is seen as an object of fear, hate, and derision by the people of Notre Dame. However, his deformities and disabilities do not define him and he proves that consistently.
Quasi’s strength comes from his passion and his burning desire to do good for his friends, Esmeralda and Phoebus of the guards. Quasi proves how strong he is even with his physical disadvantages. His confidence comes from within and he disregards his deformities to save Esmeralda. In the book, she ends up dying, but that is beside the point.
I remember first hearing about the film and being petrified to death of what Quasimodo looked like. Now, I’m more scared of Frollo because of what kind of man he is and what he does. Frollo, for those that have yet to see this masterpiece, is the villain of this story.
In this version, he plays a Judge rather than a man of the church. He and his men ambush a small group of Romani people and chase after a Roma woman, whom he believes is carrying “stolen goods.” The woman comes to a cathedral looking for sanctuary but is killed by Frollo before anyone answers. Frollo realizes that the woman was actually carrying the infant Quasimodo. Frollo is repulsed by the child’s disfigurement and attempts to drown it in a well, but is stopped by a man from the church, who convinces Frollo to raise the child.
Years later, Frollo becomes obsessed with the extermination of the Romani people, while simultaneously being enamored with Esmeralda. His villainy goes beyond that of any other Disney baddie, as he longs for the genocide of an entire race, believing that that is the only way he can get into heaven. While Gaston wanted the affection of Belle, Jafar wanted dominion over others, and Scar wanted to be king, none of them compare to the absolute nightmare that is Frollo, who literally wanted to kill a people so that he could be at peace.