The Hunchback of Notre Dame vs. Notre-Dame de Paris

Quasimodo Topsy Turvy Day

The 1996 film The Hunchback of Notre Dame saw Disney take more than a few risks with their storytelling. Featuring darker adult topics such as religious genocide and lust, it also toed the line with some pole dancing and the first openly gay Disney character (non-human, but it’s a start). Since this left many people scratching their heads and wondering if a load of pod-people had taken over the company, you could be forgiven for thinking that they had simply stayed true to the source text this time.  As you may have guessed, the only thing more wrong than this answer is Frollo-Esmeralda fan fiction.

The original novel, Notre-Dame de Paris, was written in 1831 by Victor Hugo. If his name rings a bell it’s because he later went on to write the epic Les Misérables, along with various other plays and novels about social and political dissent. This particular novel is set in 15th Century France, and is the story of a deformed bell ringer who falls in love with a beautiful dancer. The idea apparently came to Hugo after seeing a real life hunchback working on the restoration of Notre Dame, and the Greek word  for “fate” carved into the cathedral wall.

The last time this word was carved into anything it didn’t bode well (see Connor: Sarah) so if you were one of those people who was upset that Quasi didn’t get the girl in the end, you might want to turn back now, lest your sanity be lost forever. For everyone else, feel free to bring along some valium and join Esmeralda in praying for the outcast – this one’s going to hurt.

Main Characters

Disney version

Despite being confined to the bell tower his whole life, gentle giant Quasimodo has had exceptional voice coaching as well as access to Simba’s hair stylist. Although his only intellectual discourse comes from a group of stone gargoyles and a religious bigot, he is kind-hearted and wants to see the good in everyone.

Quasimodo’s master, Judge Claude Frollo, is the utter opposite. Everywhere he looks he sees an evil gypsy conspiracy, and feels justified in doing anything to quash it, even murdering innocent people. The fear of eternal damnation is the only thing keeping him in check, but this is soon cast aside for a higher purpose: lust. I’ll let you enjoy that image for a moment.

The object of Frollo’s desire is the smoking hot gypsy woman Esmeralda. As well as giving Jessica Rabbit a run for her money (and with more clothes on), she is willing to stand up for the underdog, and accompanied by her loyal goat Djali, dole out the occasional dose of back chat or a back hander if the city guards overstep their mark.

Esmeralda’s most obvious fan (at least to the audience) is Phoebus, who is the new captain of the guard. Happy to duel with his wits as well as his sword, he starts out under Frollo’s employ but soon defects after witnessing his treatment of gypsies. He too has a loyal animal sidekick in the form of Achilles, his horse, who turns out to be a bit of a one-trick pony (sorry).

Oh, and if you’re wondering which one is the gay character, it’s Hugo, the more rotund of the three stone gargoyles:

We know this because Djali is a male goat in the Disney version, but this isn’t the only difference between the two line-ups, as we’ll see.

Hugo version

A windswept Quasimodo, by Bernard Lamotte.

This Quasimodo has been weathered by sarcasm and spite as well as the various branches of the ugly tree, and so decides to stay in the bell tower of his own volition. He’s also stone deaf and chooses to communicate with sign language rather than big musical numbers, although he does speak occasionally. He has a miserable and embittered outlook on the world, but this shifts slightly when he meets a certain someone., named after her pendant rather than her huge green dinner-plate eyes, is a 16 year-old Egyptian girl.  She believes that her virtue is linked to her pendant, so if she loses either, she will never be able to find her long lost parents. This suggests she is on a quest to find them, but in reality she’s just happy dancing with her goat Djali in front of many an admirer. Not everyone appreciates her charms, however, like a crazy reclusive woman who accuses her of devouring babies, and a man called Frollo. this version, Frollo is an archdeacon instead of a judge, and is so well educated and knowledgeable that some locals suspect him of being a sorceror. He has a useless layabout of a brother named Jehan whom he raised from infancy, giving him money as well as sermons, and he later adds Quasimodo to his family too. He doesn’t believe there is a global gypsy conspiracy afoot, but he does think that Esmeralda was sent by the devil to tempt him away from his virtuous lifestyle.

Esmeralda, on the other hand, could possibly surrender her virtue to Phoebus, the captain of the royal archers. Although aware of the girl’s doe-eyed affection for him, Phoebus tries to extricate himself from the whole affair as much as possible. Instead, he enjoys getting drunk with Frollo’s brother, and it’s implied he tells women he loves them as often as he asks them the time. This is despite the fact he is betrothed to a local noblewoman.

Last but not least, we have the poet and playwright Pierre Gringoire, who was completely shafted in the Disney film. A former student of Frollo’s, he begins as our main character and is unwittingly roped into the world’s creepiest love triangle, but takes a decidedly neutral stance and appears more interested in the goat than anyone else.

In both versions Esmeralda is the link between the characters, but Disney have made her an older and more bootilicious woman rather than a teenager who wears her virginity around her neck. This is possibly to make Frollo’s obsession with her less paedotastic, and Frollo himself is distilled with the negative traits of the other characters so that we have a clear and obvious villain à la The Jungle Book. Despite this darker turn, Hugo’s version hints at a more tragic romantic outcome, as there is little to suggest that any of the lovelorn characters will find happiness with their chosen idol. Quasimodo is also much more embittered in the original, which is surprising considering the way Frollo treats him in comparison to the film version, as we will see.

The Monster and the Man

Disney version

Clearly the face of a man who can be trusted with children.

Frollo first meets Quasimodo while trying to drown him in a well as a baby, mere moments after killing his mother by kicking her down the cathedral steps. For some reason this makes him ideal father material, so the archdeacon of Notre Dame says he must instead adopt the boy as penance for committing murder and attempted infanticide.

Yes, I am talking about the Disney version.

When you’re an up and coming judge, being saddled with a deformed gypsy baby is a bit of an inconvenience, especially if you hate gypsies. But Frollo knuckles down and chooses to express his disdain by giving him a name meaning “half-formed”, confining him to the bell tower for life, and frequently reminding him that anyone else would have drowned him at birth due to his ugliness. Nice.

Well,  at least he has the best house.

Quasimodo therefore grows up to be meek, submissive and fearful of his “master”, but still grateful to him for his kindness, and for taking the time to drop by with some fundamentalist dogma every morning.

And impressionable adults, too.

The judge never threatens him with violence, instead letting the crowd humiliate him with rotten produce when he breaks the rules and sneaks into the Festival of Fools, and then blaming him for everything bad that happens in the world. For example, his letting Esmeralda escape is what ignited the windmill and almost burnt down all of Paris – saying it was Frollo throwing a flaming torch at the roof is just being pedantic.

Likewise, although Quasimodo can hoist Esmeralda and Phoebus around with no problems, he never raises a hand against the judge. Even when he makes another attempt at murdering him and he has no choice but to defend himself, the hunchback simply disarms him, and when Frollo takes a leaf out of Scar’s book and tells him what really happened to his mother while stood precariously on a ledge, the hunchback instead tries to run away and avoid a fight at all costs.

Interestingly, his mother is not quite as sympathetic a figure in the book.

Hugo version she is tragically separated from him in the film, in the book Quasimodo’s mother simply gets bored of him and does a swapsie. The hunchback is eventually dumped in the “lost children” section of the chapel at age four. A 19 year-old Frollo then whisks him away, saying he will look after the child like a proper parent and everything. The reason for the more conventional adoption? He reminds him of his own brother, albeit not physically, whom he found abandoned when their parents were killed by the plague.

Since Frollo adopted him out of kindness then, why the cruel name? Well, in actual fact, the child is named Quasimodo mainly because he was found on “Quasimodo Sunday”, also known as the Octave of Easter in the Christian calendar. In addition, Quasimodo takes himself off to the bell tower, as until the age of 15 when he tragically goes deaf, his only joy is ringing the bells, something he and Frollo bonded over. To escape from the taunts of the townspeople he resides here, and it has nothing to do with the archdeacon’s rules.

That’s not to say their relationship is all rainbows and sunshine; Frollo does angrily sign at him from time to time, for example when he joins in the Festival of Fools, and when he is humiliated by the crowd, the archdeacon makes a point of neglecting him, albeit for a different reason. There is however a certain amount of respect that passes between them. For instance, at one point Quasimodo is sincerely sorry for giving him an accidental back-hander when he catches him spying on Esmeralda, and Frollo takes no further action against him. This is in stark contrast to the end of their relationship, as we will see later.

So far it would seem that Hugo’s version is much lighter. Quasimodo is adopted out of genuine compassion, and he and Frollo have a more conventional father-son relationship. There is also a distinct lack of emotional abuse and murder (at least so far), and Frollo even appears to be  a good guy, a tragic survivor who wants to help others. Strangely, this Quasimodo is the bitter and reclusive one, as opposed to the Disney version, who despite being raised out of duty and with no genuine concern or kindness, is gentle and timid and doesn’t want to cause problems for anyone. Disney’s Frollo uses him as a scapegoat for his own guilt and as a free ticket to heaven rather than trying to help anyone other than himself, and it’s the hunchback who is the tragic survivor.

This is partly why Esmeralda rocks his world, as she is the first person to show him kindness without any ulterior motive.


Disney version

If someone thought you were so ugly you must be wearing a mask, you’d likely be offended. Fortunately, Quasimodo isn’t, as this is how he first meets Esmeralda at the Festival of Fools. However, his subsequent “unmasking” is what makes the crowd turn on him, and only Esmeralda sticks up for him, showing pity on him and cutting him free in direct defiance of Frollo’s orders.

“£5 says I can fit my entire head in your hand.”

Since her name is now mud with the authorities, Esmeralda has to seek sanctuary in the cathedral, where she and Quasimodo sit and compare notes about how much Frollo hates and judges both of them. She shows no fear of the hunchback whatsoever, and likewise, despite being raised on a diet of gypsy hatred, Quasimodo is courteous, polite and shy, and wants to do everything he can to help her escape to thank her for her kindness. This would be a perfectly platonic friendship, if it weren’t for the stone gargoyles who try to cajole Quasimodo into thinking she’s his girlfriend.

Bounce or break, what d’you reckon?

He is almost convinced when she later returns to visit him, even though the whole of Paris is burning in a bid to find her, but finds himself hastily friend-zoned due to Captain Phoebus. His lack of shining armour, knighthood, and misshapen appearance almost make Quasimodo leave her to the authorities, but he redeems himself later by swooping heroically down and rescuing her from a burning stake, in one of the story’s most iconic moments. Likewise, Esmeralda risks her life to save him while battling it out with Frollo on the side of Notre Dame. Too bad she drops him, but this doesn’t seem to bother him afterwards.

Hugo version

In the novel, the pair don’t get off to the best start, mainly because Quasimodo tries to kidnap her and carry her away like a caveman. a bout of dancing in the square after the Festival of Fools, Esmeralda sets off for home down a side street. Quasimodo and a cloaked figure (guess who) try to grab her, but are beaten away by the royal guards. The cloaked figure escapes but Quasimodo is sentenced to the stocks, and the next day is tied up before being brutally whipped and pelted with vegetables for a good hour and a half.

Surprisingly, it’s Esmeralda who steps up to the plate when he begs for water. After she gives him a drink from one of the gourds around her belt, the hunchback sheds a single tear of gratitude, and from then on he makes it his mission to help her, having finally found something that makes him as happy as the bells used to.

Indeed, his heroic cry of “sanctuary” while holding her aloft on the cathedral happens soon after, when she has been accused of murder and witchcraft and he swings down to save her from the gallows. Once she is safely hidden in Notre Dame, he watches over her and brings her food, but keeps out of her sight if he can because she is scared of him. The only exception is when he suggests he try to contact Phoebus for her, after which she becomes excessively grateful and ecstatic. However, when he returns unsuccessful, she then throws a teenage hissy fit and won’t speak to him. This is pretty much the last impression she leaves him with before she escapes.

There is a definite friendship between Esmeralda and Quasimodo in the film, as they are united by Frollo’s ill treatment or persecution, and arguably of a similar age. What’s more, despite such persecution, neither one judges the other. In Hugo’s novel, however, Esmeralda is kind up until the point she realises the hunchback’s affection is more than she can deal with, and her teenage years are more obvious when he fails to do what she wants. She is at best tolerant, and at worst frightened of Quasimodo, who sees her as an object until she blows his mind with real compassion.

The proverbial fly in the ointment is Captain Phoebus, so let’s now see whether this potential romance is going to turn out any better.

“It means God’s gift to women.”

Disney version

Don’t worry, he’s following you because he’s got the horn, not because he’s doing his job.

Both Disney characters have a passion for violence accompanied by a witty remark, so this is a match made in heaven.

Phoebus first ingratiates himself by sneakily stalling some of the other guards when they try to arrest the gypsy, and again by letting her claim sanctuary in the cathedral. This is despite her almost decapitating him during her escape and sending Djali to attack his crotch, so Esmeralda is understandably intrigued. After a brief tussle with candle holders and an exchange of one-liners in Notre Dame, they know it’s meant to be, and this causes a bit of an issue with Phoebus’ chosen career path.

“I know this probably isn’t the time, but how come the wound’s on my chest when I was shot in the back?”

When asked to burn down the miller’s house for harbouring gypsies, and possibly Esmeralda,  Phoebus disobeys Frollo’s orders and is sentenced to death. Fortunately, Esmeralda is a good shot and manages to distract the guards, as well as carry Phoebus back to Notre Dame once he’s been shot with an arrow. When he wakes up, the alcohol starts flowing – mainly over the wound – and the pair share their first kiss as a devastated Quasimodo looks on.

From this point Phoebus is on the side of the gypsies, and risks his life yet again when he goes to warn Esmeralda of an impending attack on her home, the Court of Miracles.

Hugo version

When Esmeralda is captured by Quasimodo, it’s Captain Phoebus who intervenes and rescues her, hoisting her up on to his horse. From that day onward, the young Egyptian is smitten, and even teaches Djali how to spell out his name with blocks.

Unfortunately, Phoebus is in the process of courting his arranged bride, and when the fiancée finds out about the Egyptian girl, she invites her into her house in front of her mother and friends, partly to humiliate her and partly out of curiosity. When Esmeralda leaves soon after, embarrassed, Phoebus follows, and the next thing we hear is that he has hired a room at a local inn for a “rendezvous”, despite making a point of avoiding her during the day.

“I heard popping your cherry could be painful, but this isn’t what I had in mind.”

That night in the room, Esmeralda confesses her love for him, and says that although she would usually remain chaste, she would happily make an exception for him. Because sod your long lost parents when there’s a hot soldier to be had. And anyway, he’s obviously going to marry her afterwards.

Phoebus leads her on regardless, but for some reason appears uncomfortable with the idea of wedlock. Luckily, an irate Frollo intervenes with a stabbing before things can get too awkward, after which Esmeralda faints and for a while believes that Phoebus is dead. The captain is not too bothered about correcting her, as he is too busy sorting out his politically convenient marriage, and when Quasimodo approaches him about the girl, Phoebus drunkenly waves him away and says he wants nothing more to do with her. It’s just as well really, as there was another reason Esmeralda wasn’t marriage material, as we will soon discover.

Hugo’s Esmeralda therefore has a bare-faced teenage obsession with Phoebus, who in turn only sees her as another possible notch on his bedpost before he marries into some money. The Egyptian is completely unaware of this, which makes it all the more tragic in its outcome. Conversely the Disney couple are on an even keel, swapping comebacks and the odd fighting move or two before falling into each other’s arms, and Phoebus’ resolve is also strengthened by this romance. However, Quasimodo is not the only character disappointed at such a union.

Indeed, you may have noticed a rather drastic change in Hugo’s Frollo from compassionate  religious figure to bitter and stab-happy villain. This is due to a growing obsession with Esmeralda, which takes centre stage in the Disney version.

Esmeralda and Frollo

Disney version

“Sorry, I’m not into guys in uniform.”

Frollo actively hates gypsies, people who disobey his orders, and people who send the guards careering into his booth while he’s sitting in it. Esmeralda is guilty on all three counts, but this doesn’t stop him from creepily smelling her hair and telling her he is a patient man, and that he will catch her one day or another, whether she claims sanctuary or not.

“If I had access to porn this might have been avoided.”

“Patient” may have been a bit of an exaggeration, because after a demonic singalong with his fireplace, and after hearing the gyspy has escaped the cathedral, Frollo takes the executive decision to burn down half of Paris to find her. As you may have guessed, this is not just revenge for being upstaged in public; Frollo is tormented by lust, and either wants Esmeralda for himself, or for her to be burned as a witch.

When he finally gets his virtuous hands on her, she is tied up and ready to be burnt alive for the crime of witchcraft. However, apparently witchcraft is acceptable provided you are happy to bone the judge who is accusing you of it, so Frollo offers her the choice of him or a fiery death. Rather than saying yes, kicking him in the nuts and then making her escape, Esmeralda spits in his face and watches in horror as the pyre is lit. When someone chooses a horrible death instead of your company, it puts paid to any idea of romance, so from this point onward, Frollo is happy for her to be brutally murdered.

Hugo version’s kindness towards Quasimodo isn’t what makes Frollo sit up and take notice in this version – it’s her very existence. It seems he has already been gawping at her from afar, and occasionally watches her dance in the square while muttering about witchcraft. On hearing about her planned meeting with Phoebus, he has the audacity to approach the archer about this and even offers him money so he can come and watch. Just to double check it’s really her, of course, and that she is really a virgin. Phoebus is cool with this, because it’s money after all, but makes sure the priest is locked in a cupboard and out of the way before he gets his freak on with the girl.

Before any hanky-panky can take place, Frollo frees himself and then frames Esmeralda for Phoebus’ murder. Although no one notices Phoebus didn’t actually die from his stab wounds, Esmeralda she is arrested and put on trial anyway. The overwhelming evidence against her comes in the form of Djali’s testimony, that is, the goat spells out the victim’s name in blocks. Esmeralda is then taken to the torture chamber and given a go on this jolly contraption, known as a brodequin:

After screaming her confession to the murder and witchcraft, they then throw her in the dungeon, telling her she will spend the night there in pitch darkness, but if it’s any consolation, she should still be able to dance. In theory. At least until tomorrow, when she’ll be hanged in the square.

Frollo is kind enough to pay her a visit soon after, only to tell her she has ruined his life by bringing his virtuousness into question, and that he is glad she is going to die. However, he changes his tune ever so slightly later on, after she has escaped the gallows and found sanctuary in Notre Dame.

He and Gringoire come to “rescue” her, but while Gringoire absconds with the goat (don’t ask), Frollo makes Esmeralda the same offer the Disney version made, only this time, she will either hang or be his lover. The girl once again turns him down, so he gets the crazy reclusive woman to restrain her while he fetches the palace guards to execute her.

So let’s recap: a 35 year-old archdeacon becomes obsessed with a naive 16 year-old girl, and not only frames her for the murder of the man she loves but orchestrates her torture, gloats over her execution, and then rewards her with the prize of rape or hanging. All this, despite her not doing anything to arouse his anger. The Disney version, at least, gives Frollo a more obvious reason to get angry with the gypsy – she has defied him in public, he hates gypsies anyway, and he doesn’t like the loss of control, lust or otherwise.  However, Disney make Frollo’s reaction much more extreme, in that he starts locking up peasants and burning down houses to get what he wants, culminating in an attempt at mass murder in the middle of the square. Esmeralda would also suffer a far more painful death at his hands.

Frollo manages to capture Esmeralda and her gypsy brethren in the first place  because he finds their aforementioned hideout, which holds more than a few surprises for both sets of characters.

The Court of Miracles

Disney version

Finding the Court of Miracles, and presumably crushing all the gypsies therein, is why the judge initially hired Phoebus. The captain clearly notices Frollo’s tin foil hat but goes along with the plan anyway, at least until he starts chucking fire about in his quest to capture Esmeralda.

Thanks to his friendship with the gypsy girl, Quasimodo has a way of finding it, and just in time too, because Frollo is apparently planning an attack at dawn. He and Phoebus manage to crack the code, despite being distracted by their cock contest, and head down into the catacombs to find Esmeralda and the others to warn them.

“Don’t worry kids, I won’t leave anything out of the story. Even the bit where I try to murder your heroes in cold blood. Hey, why are you crying?”

Said gypsies are not quite as welcoming as expected. After ambushing the two heroes, their leader, Clopin (who incidentally is our storyteller), has them bound and gagged and sentences them to hang for being Frollo’s spies. Luckily his own hand puppets distract him long enough for Esmeralda to dash on to the scene and order a halt to the execution, after which Phoebus is extremely forgiving and warns them of Frollo’s attack. Too late, however, as the judge has followed them right there and captures everyone, hinting that they will all be burnt alive in the city square the next day. All except for Quasimodo, who will be chained up in Notre Dame so he keeps out of trouble.

Hugo version

The Court of Miracles is also the home of the gypsies in the original, but it’s in plain sight and is simply a no-go area of the city (think The Shades in Discworld, except with less hilarity). Clopin is the king, but he does share some power with the “Duke of Egypt and Bohemia”, and the “Emperor of Galilee”, and has an equal penchant for hanging innocent people.

This time the victim is Pierre Gringoire, our shafted playwright. After the Festival of Fools and Esmeralda’s dancing steal the thunder from his stage play, he takes off in a huff into the streets of Paris, where he both tries and fails to rescue Esmeralda from Quasimodo. Not long after, he is captured by some of the gypsies and brought on trial in the Court. If he can successfully pick the pocket of a dummy, without making it move or falling and breaking his neck from a great height, they will spare him and allow him to become a thief like them.

Unsurprisingly, he fails, and is sentenced to hang. Fortunately, Clopin suddenly remembers that he can offer the prisoner’s hand in marriage, and if anyone accepts, he will be granted a stay of execution. Esmeralda appears and says that she will marry him, and so she and Gringoire are made husband and wife for a minimum of four years. His attempts to consummate the marriage fail, as the girl sort of blinks at him and explains she only did it to save him, after which Gringoire contents himself with cuddling Djali, and is equally nonplussed when Frollo later cross-examines him about the entire ordeal. As we saw earlier, Esmeralda is also strangely silent on this topic when enthralled in the embrace of Phoebus.

The members of the Court of Miracles are rather brutal in both stories, but again the Disney version has more rhyme and reason – they are trying to protect themselves from being discovered, as they know Frollo will kill them all if they are ever found. Hugo’s gypsies are just an unpleasant bunch trying to recruit new members or kill trespassers, so Esmeralda’s kindness is even more highlighted. In both versions she comes to the rescue of the heroes, but also ends up in need of rescue herself. Guess which version turns out for the better.

War on Notre Dame

Disney version

When all seems lost for both the gypsies and Esmeralda, Quasimodo manages to break free of his chains in the bell tower and swings down to rescue her. Outraged, Frollo orders his guards to break into the cathedral, so the hunchback responds by throwing debris and even pouring lead over the side, regardless of the hundreds of innocent people who are congregating in the square below.

Pictured: Reasonable force.

The crowd then rushes the guards, but Frollo manages to squeeze in through the battered main door. After shoving the archdeacon down the stairs, he rushes up to find Quasimodo weeping over Esmeralda, who apparently died from smoke inhalation. He takes this chance for a stabbing, which the hunchback easily deflects, and makes the astute observation that Frollo may just be the most wicked person he has ever met.

Esmeralda suddenly comes to, so Quasimodo whisks her away on to the side of the cathedral as the judge pursues them with a sword. The stone gargoyles do sod all to help, so the judge very nearly sends Quasimodo plunging to his death and tries to behead Esmeralda. Fortunately, poetic justice in the form of a completely unrelated stone gargoyle means Frollo is the one who plummets into the fiery pit. In the meantime, Phoebus has fought free and arrives just in time to catch Quasimodo as he loses his grip.

“They see me as A man, as well as THE man. Bonus!”

Reunited and victorious, Esmeralda, Phoebus and Quasimodo emerge from Notre Dame into the square where it’s suddenly daytime, and it seems the crowd was thoughtful enough to wait up all night for them. Then the world’s weirdest looking child goes up and starts touching Quasimodo’s face. Rather than back handing her and giving her an odd look, Quasimodo hugs her and the crowd finally accepts him as a human being. They hoist him on their shoulders and carry him away into the square, while Esmeralda, Phoebus and Djali (who suddenly appears out of nowhere) stand beaming on the steps of the cathedral.

By this point you are probably thinking that the Hugo version can’t be all that much worse, and that the Disney film is the one with the darker and more depressing elements (the torturing of a young girl notwithstanding).  Well, the main difference here is that Hugo decided to cash in all his misery chips at the end.

Hugo version,-Esmeralda-and-Claude-Frollo,-1831.html

Sachette, Esmeralda and Claude Frollo, by Louis Boulanger

In their plan to rescue Esmeralda from the cathedral and get her to safety, Gringoire and Frollo decide to distract the royal guards by sending the gyspies at them. They therefore tell Clopin and the others that there is a plan afoot to kidnap Esmeralda from inside Notre Dame  and hang her.

No one bothered to tell Quasimodo this plan, nor would he have been able to hear an explanation, so when the gyspy army turns up at the cathedral, he mistakenly thinks they are the ones who have come to kill Esmeralda. He ends up throwing beams, bricks, and pouring lead down on to them, and also murdering Frollo’s rabble-rousing brother  by throwing him off the side of Notre Dame. A round of applause for the hunchback, everyone.

It’s at this point that Gringoire and Frollo get into the cathedral and take Esmeralda and Djali away with them. Quasimodo doesn’t realise she has gone until it’s too late and Frollo has already left her in the care of the crazy recluse.

We then discover that the crazy recluse is Esmeralda’s real mother, and that Esmeralda and Quasimodo were swapped in infancy by the gypsies (hence her belief that Esmeralda and “her kind” eat babies). Reunited mother and daughter cry with joy, and the mother pulls her into her cell to hide her before the guards arrive. This all goes to plan, until Phoebus happens to ride by on his horse, and Esmeralda emits a fan-girl squeal and shouts out to get his attention. He doesn’t hear her, but the recently departed guards do. The mother is then killed in a desperate and screaming tussle to protect her daughter, but the gypsy girl is carried away  to be hanged nonetheless. No one comes to her aid, although there are a couple of pitying murmurs from some of the guards.

Unfortunately, unlike in the film, things don’t improve by the light of day. next morning, Quasimodo finds Frollo standing on the roof of Notre Dame watching something. Following his gaze, he sees Esmeralda getting executed in the square. When she finally stops twitching at the end of the noose, Frollo laughs, and so the hunchback gives him a shove and sends him plummeting to his own death.

It’s not all bad news though. Gringoire has managed to escape with his beloved Djali, and realises he’s got a knack for writing tragedies. He therefore decides to spread misery and sorrow to all of his audiences for the rest of his days.

Djali, on the other hand, is believed to have been the devil acting through Frollo and Quasimodo. Consequently, the priest is not buried on hallowed ground or given a proper funeral.

Quasimodo disappears, thereby also implicating himself, only for a strange and malformed skeleton to be found years later in the crypt. Its arms are wrapped around the skeleton of a young girl with a broken neck, and when disturbed, its bones turn to dust.

As for Phoebus, the book assures us he had the worst fate of all. He got married.

Hey, at least the goat survived.

In fact, it’s probably worth noting that Djali has the most sense of any of the characters, completely avoiding the battle on the cathedral and the attempt at mass execution in both versions. Although it’s mainly Frollo’s obsession that starts the showdown at Notre Dame, in the original novel the others reach their peak as well – Quasimodo kills his adoptive brother and father to protect or avenge Esmeralda, and Esmeralda’s obsession makes her break cover, sacrificing herself, her mother and her lifelong dream of meeting her family just because Phoebus happened to be passing by. Conversely, it’s at this stage of the film that Frollo’s madness unites everyone – the crowd rushes the cathedral to protect the gypsies, and Quasimodo finally stands up to his master to protect his friend. This results in him winning the hearts and minds of the peasants and gaining acceptance.


As well as pressing the “nuke character” button, Hugo’s story shows us the dangers of obsession, authority figures, and teaching animals cute tricks. Frollo, who was hitherto a compassionate father figure and respectable religious authority, becomes a violent and manipulative cad. Esmeralda’s obsession nearly makes her betray her own principles, and ends up costing her her life because all that matters to her is winning Phoebus’ affection and attention. Phoebus himself starts out as a heroic protector, but is then revealed to be selfish and hedonistic. Quasimodo is the only one whose personality improves due to his infatuation, but when it results in him starving to death while wrapped around a dead body, it’s not exactly a positive change.

Conversely, the Disney version is about prejudice, the dangers of religious dogma, and that even if things don’t always work out in the romance department, you can always rely on your friends. All three main male characters are driven to take a stand because of their feelings for Esmeralda, but it’s only the ones who truly love her who survive and become a force for good. It’s therefore also a story about the power of love and friendship, and how it can transcend appearances and misconceptions.

In comparison to the original, Disney have thrown rainbows and sunshine at the ending before burying it in the catacombs. The people who are unfairly treated are redeemed, and the crowd sees the error of its ways and fights to protect them. The characters in the book have no such luck, their discrimination only increasing, and their love or obsessions driving them to disaster and changing them into different people. However, Disney more than make up for such sugar-coating by taking a much heavier hand to some of the elements in the book, emphasising the persecution and hatred felt by some of the characters.

As a closing observation,  both goats get away suspiciously scot free. And are conveniently absent when things like torture or witch burning are going on. There is therefore only one real conclusion to this entry, and it is as follows:

They’ll eat everything. INCLUDING YOUR SOUL.


1)  The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1996. Film. Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, U.S.A. Walt Disney Pictures.

2) Hugo, Victor. Notre-Dame de Paris. Hachette, Paris, 1990. ISBN: 978-201-014-551-3

3)  [online]

4) [online]

5) Real Life Quasimodo uncovered in Tate archives,

6 thoughts on “The Hunchback of Notre Dame vs. Notre-Dame de Paris

  1. Wow you know I was so surprised how Disney basically changed the story plots to what they have. To be honest I’m disappointed of how much they did change but I guess I can understand why. Especially since their version was suppose to be for children. At the same time in a way they basically lied with what they wanted most of their films to portray. Don’t get me wrong I’m still a huge fan of their version but it would be nice to see how each story was suppose to be. But thanks again with all of you insight and info it really helped understand the difference.

    • Hi Tierra,

      Yes I think The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of the stranger choices for a Disney film. According to the making of documentary the animators were so taken by the cathedral they just wanted an excuse to make a film about it. Kudos to them for including some darker elements, but you have to wonder what it would have been like if they’d gotten rid of the comic relief and given it a treatment more like Beauty and the Beast. Thanks for commenting!

  2. I really liked the 1939 Hunchback movie with Maureen O’Hara and Charles Laughton.

    • Hi Tirnel,

      I admit I started watching it and then got distracted, I really should finish it! Thanks for your comment.

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