The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of my all time favorite Disney movies, namely because it defies all of the major Disney Tropes.
Quazimodo as the first ugly protagonist
Quazimodo is Disney’s first ever ugly protagonist. He is misshapen and deformed.
Every Disney movie has a few sidekicks thrown into the mix for comedic relief, and so the main characters can emote and pontificate their deepest emotions to a non-judgmental supporter. These sidekicks usually range the gambit from cute and fluffy sassy and sarcastic. All manner of small creatures, ranging from squirrels and raccoons, to flounders, and little dragons and crickets. Quazimodo has no such sidekicks. Instead he converses with three ugly gargoyles made entirely of stone.
When Frollo comes in he asks Quazimodo:
Frollo: “Dear boy, whomever are you talking to?”
Quazimodo: “My friends”
Frollo: “I see, and what are your friends made of?”
Frollo: “Can stone talk?”
Unlike all the other hero’s sidekicks it’s debatable if they’re actually real characters or figments of Quasimodo’s poor and lonely imagination, which would suggest severe physiological damage to our main protagonist. None of the other characters in the movie can see or interact with them, save for the goat. This isn’t the first time a stone creature is introduced as a sidekick. Mushu from Mulan originally begins as a stone sculpture, but is magically awaken. In the world of Hunchback of Notre Dame, there is no magic.
Frollo the antagonist
Frollo is perhaps my second favorite Disney villain, second only to Gaston. Frollo is not a spell spouting wizard or a magical octopus– he’s just a cutthroat public official with soldiers at his command.
One of the first indications of his character is when he’s in the French Dungeons. He has one of his lackeys torturing a prisoner, and Frollo orders:
“Stop. Wait up between the lashes. Otherwise the old sting will dull him to the new.”
There’s a particular cunning sadism to the way his mind works. It’s later revealed that the man on the rack being lashed was Frollo’s previous captain of the guard.
But he is perhaps the only Disney villain who is fueled by his sexual compulsions. He even has an entire song about it:
“…Choose me or, your pyre
Be mine or you will burn”
He’s basically saying, “let me do you, or else I’m going to use my authority to murder you” He’s a corrupt public official with a hard-on for a criminal who’s going to use his power to get the girl.
The hero doesn’t get the girl
It’s obvious from the story that Quazimodo has romantic intentions for Esmerelda. There are even two songs dedicated to extrapolating Quazimodo’s love:
Where Quazimodo talks about his first feelings of love for Esmerelda.
Next is A Guy Like You:
Where Quazimodo’s gargoyle posse sings an entire song touting Quazimodo’s traits as a potential suitor for Esmerelda.
It’s obvious what Quazimodo’s intentions are. He wants the girl. The audience is led to believe that Quasimodo will get the girl. Yet, at the end of the movie, Esmerelda ends up with the non-deformed Phoebus. As the first ugly Disney protagonist, Quazimodo gets friendzoned.
What does Quasimodo get for all of his trouble?
He gets to go outside, and for the first time in his life be treated like a normal human being. But wait, is this really such a good idea?
Quasimodo is 20+ years old but he’s still being educated by Frollo on the basic alphabet. He’s not even forming complete sentences, just going over the letters in chronological order. He has little to no education to speak of. He has no knowledge of the outside world beyond his voyeuristic view from up in the bell tower. His social skills are limited to the talks with his imaginary friends the gargoyles (who he perceives to be real mind you), and whatever limited conversations he had with Frollo.
Quasimodo has brutish strength; he’s able to break himself free from metal chains, scale wall faces, escape from numerous men with ropes. Add to that his defiance of authority (Frollo may have been a bad guy, but he was the paternal authority in Quasimodo’s life, and the legal authority in France. )
Moreover, who will Quasimodo fall into the care of? Will he become the awkward third wheel for Esmeralda and Phoebus? How long with that really last with him pining after Esmeralda, and Phoebus just having to put up with it?
Maybe Frollo was right to keep Quasimodo locked up from the rest of society.