Where Disney Went Wrong: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

I Love Disney

Firstly, I would like to say that I love Disney and I like almost everything that Disney does. When I read the book Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo, I sort of expected to read something somewhat similar to the Disney movie. Disney took the characters and like Tarzan (I did an analysis in another article over Tarzan) and made an almost completely different story with it.
I do respect Disney’s attempt to try to tame a story like Hunchback, and I think they did a fairly decent job. I was just surprised that so many things has been altered to make the movie more kid friendly, and there are 16 major points in all where things are different. And for those of you that may be skeptical about the truth of these points, I can assure you that I read the book and even took some notes. Feel free to read the book yourself if you are having some doubts or want to delve into one of these points a bit further.

Spoiler Alert!

BEWARE! THERE ARE SPOILERS OF THE BOOK! If you plan on reading the book, I highly suggest you do not look at this article because there are a bunch of things I give away, unless this sort of thing doesn’t bother you.

1. The narrator is omitted from the story

Gringoire, the poet/narrator of the story is left out, taken instead by Gypsy King, Clopin, in the Disney movie.

2. Quasimodo is deaf and too nice

Quasimodo does ring the bells, but they make him deaf because they are so loud. Also, because townspeople treated him meanly, he treated them meanly back. The only person he was nice to was Frollo.

3. Esmeralda is only 16

She is not early to mid 20’s as the Disney movie portrays her.

4. Frollo is a middle aged priest

Can you imagine the sort of uproar that would have arisen form the Christian community if Disney had kept Frollo’s occupation a priest who makes a deal with the devil? Yea, they just avoided that altogether, and he’s only mid to late 30’s in the book, not 50 or 60.

5. Frollo wasn’t a bad guy at first

Frollo raised Quasimodo from infancy, and he did it out of the goodness of his heart. He was also a very pious person who also raised his brother when their parents died. Until one young lady came along…

6. Esmeralda is married

Esmeralda saves the omitted narrator from getting hanged by the gypsies by taking him as her husband, saving his life. They were to be married for about four years, and she makes it very clear they are only to be like brother and sister.

7. Esmeralda’s trying to find her mother

Esmeralda has a pouch around her neck that is supposed to lead her to her mother, and she is not allowed to have any sort of relations with men or the enchantment will be broken.

8. Esmeralda is a lovesick teen

She is not the strong young woman we see fight Phoebus in the cathedral, or the independent young lady Disney portrayed her. She thinks about Phoebus all the time and is convinced she could love no other. Which leads to the next point…

9. Phoebus is a philanderer.

He doesn’t care about Esmeralda at all, only that she is young and pretty. There is a scene where they are romantically together, and he calls her “Similar” because he can’t remember her name, since he’s been with so many other women.

10. Esmeralda is framed for murder

Guess who’s watching Phoebus and Esmeralda when they are together? The stalking priest, Frollo. He stabs Phoebus out of jealousy, and she is framed for her sweetheart’s assumed murder. (Phoebus really lives, and he wants nothing to do with her after that ordeal).

11. Gypsies attack the cathedral

Under the impression that Esmeralda is being held there against her will (which she was sort of), they attack the cathedral to try and free her. They weren’t soldiers trying to get Esmeralda out.

12. Esmeralda’s husband betrays her to Frollo

Gringoire leads Esmeralda out of the cathedral (unbeknownst to Quasimodo), and he leaves her alone with Frollo. All because Frollo said he would be able to keep Esmeralda’s pet goat.

13. Esmeralda’s mother is omitted

Esmeralda does find her mother, and this scene is omitted from the movie, because the mother dies soon after she is reunited with her daughter.

14. Phoebus turns against Esmeralda

Esmeralda calls out to Phoebus for help, and he callously leads her to the gallows, and back to Frollo where he gives her the ultimatum of run away with me or die.

15. Esmeralda dies

Between her mother dying, and Phoebus betraying her, she is heartbroken. When Frollo says run away with me or die, you can guess which one she chooses.

16. Quasimodo kills Frollo

As Frollo is laughing at the release of Esmeralda from his life, Quasimodo, in anger, pushes him off a balcony from the cathedral where Frollo falls to his death.

17. Quasimodo dies

He is upset that Esmeralda died, and he realizes what he’s done when he pushed Frollo from such a high height. Esmeralda is thrown into a graveyard to rot, and he holds her corpse until he dies as well.

Despite the Fact...

Despite the fact that Disney left out a lot of things, Disney still made a very good movie with some good Disney songs, while at the same time keeping the dark tone that the movie had originally intended. There are other things that were left out, but I'll leave that for you to read. :-)


I will admit that though Disney had to leave quite a bit out for this to be a kid's movie, but they kept some of the elements from the original book in the movie, only so the adults could catch it. For example, Disney could not say outright how much exactly Frollo wanted Esmeralda to be his, but they signified this through him burning Paris to try and find her, with the fire resembling his passion.

Another symbol wasn't necessarily an entity within the movie, but rather the music itself. If you listen to first few measures of the title theme, it is in a minor key, and minor keys generally give the listener an ominous feeling, which resembled the book in it's entirety.

These are just a few of the symbols that I was able to catch while watching the Disney movie over again, so maybe you could catch a few more if you decide to watch the movie again with a more knowledgeable and observatory eye.

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Comments 1 comment

RachaelLefler profile image

RachaelLefler 4 months ago from Illinois

Um, this should be called something like "Differences from the Book" because I think "Where Disney Went Wrong" is misleading. They chose to make those changes from the book and write their own story, it was not a mistake, they did tons of research into the original story, they just chose to change it. Their version is shorter, more simplified, and more family-friendly. Your title makes it seem like every deliberate difference from the book was something Disney "got wrong" and that's not true.

OTHER than that issue, I like the article.

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