The Hunchback of Notre Dame

This review is sponsored by Marsha H. Peterson

the hunchback of notre dame






The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Rating: G
Run Time: 91 minutes
Released: 1996
Director: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise

Cultural Rating: pawpaw
This film offers a complex depiction of disability, race/ethnicity, religion, and sexuality. Given that it includes dark themes and attempts to subvert stereotypes through the regular use of hateful acts by an “evil” character, this film is suitable for a mature audience who understands its subversive potential.

Two social outcasts, Quasimodo and Esmeralda, come together to fight an evil politician who threatens their freedom and their lives.


Language: poopoopoopoo

  • Demeaning language-“chump,” “tin-plated buffoon,” “insolent coward,” “fat,” “stupid,” “big mouth”
    • In relationship to disability: “hunchback,” “foul creature,” “monster,” “unholy demon,” misshapen,” “half-formed,” “deformed,” “ugly,” “hideous,” “poor, misshapen child”
    • In relationship to ethnicity: “gypsies,” “gypsy vermin,” “heathens”

Violence: poopoopoopoo

  • Slapstick humor
  • Weapons-bows and arrows, swords, knives, daggers, spears, whipping (not visible but audible), noose
  • Arson
  • Character deaths
  • Quasimodo appears to have an abusive relationship with Frollo. At one point in the film, Frollo tells Quasimodo, “anyone else would have drowned you” had he not taken care of Quasimodo in addition to statements such as “you are deformed and ugly” and ones that suggests that Quasimodo cannot trust anyone but Frollo.
  • Frollo uses euphemisms that suggest a future genocide of Roma under his reign that include “taking care” of the Romani people.
  • At one point in the film, Quasimodo is tied up and humiliated by the townspeople.
  • Frollo envisions Esmeralda burning in hell as he gazes into a fire.
  • Toy dolls are hanged.
  • Esmeralda almost burns at the stake.
  • Characters enter the Catacombs.

Sex: poopoo

  • Although depicted in a positive manner, two townswomen kiss Quasimodo without his permission. It is important to note that touching someone without their permission is inappropriate.
  • Frollo smells Esmeralda’s neck and touches her throat without her consent. This touching is depicted as unwanted. It is important to note that unwanted touching is inappropriate.
  • Suggestive dancing
  • Shirtless male
  • At one point in the film, Esmeralda is caught changing clothes.
  • Kiss

Drugs and Alcohol: poo

  • “Wine” is visible and the word is audible.
  • Beer, champagne are visible.
  • Smoking pipe is visible.

Cultural Analysis




  • There are major and minor characters of color.
  • Please see talking point.

 Sexual Orientation: N/A


  • Although the term “hunchback” is considered offensive terminology, it is important that the film’s protagonist has a visible physical disability and that this is clearly stated in the title. This is significant because the media tends to stereotype or ignore disability (both visible and invisible disability). Additionally, characters with visible disabilities are often depicted as powerless or evil. However, Quasimodo is kind, loving, creative, well-spoken, and agile.


  • Quasimodo, who has a visible disability, is active. For example, Quasimodo scales Notre Dame Cathedral with ease and grace. Additionally, his body is not used as a signifier of immorality. Rather, Quasimodo is a “good” character who helps others.
  • Various body types are shown throughout the film.



  • While Esmerelda challenges stereotypes regarding traditional femininity, her body is often used as the object of the male gaze. For example, at one point in the film, Esmerelda performs a dance routine similar to a striptease where crowds throw money at her. It is important to note that Esmerelda dances as a means to survive and does not want to “danc[e] on the streets for coins.”
  • At one point in the film, Esmeralda and Phoebus are fighting one another, and Phoebus says to Esmeralda, “you fight almost as well as a man” to which Esmeralda responds, “I was going to say the same about you.” Phoebus suggests that only men are capable of being skilled fighters by claiming that Esmeralda almost fights as well as a man. Additionally, in this situation, masculinity is equated with being able to fight, and Esmeralda undermines Phoebus’ masculinity by suggesting that he fights more like a woman than a man.
  • Both of the gargoyles with masculine signifiers do drag, but this performance is depicted as comedic rather than counter-hegemonic.


  • Please see talking points.

Sexual Orientation:


  • Throughout the film, Quasimodo longs to “be normal” and “fit in” with the townspeople. Further, the film suggests that those with a visible disability are not capable of romantic relationships because their bodies do not adhere to the ideal body type.


  • Frollo, who has a grotesque body with gaunt and pointy features, is an evil character. This is significant because characters with aberrant bodies are often immoral in popular media narratives.
  • The two characters who end up falling in love have ideal bodies as Esmeralda is thin but curvaceous and Phoebus is buff and blond while those who have aberrant bodies, such as Quasimodo and Frollo, end up romantically alone.
  • The gargoyles reinforce stereotypes regarding age and fat bodies as the old gargoyle is a curmudgeon who has hearing difficulties and the fat-bodied gargoyle is shown shoving food in its face. However, it is important to note that the gargoyles care deeply for Quasimodo.

Suggested talking points

  • The film depicts race/ethnicity in a complicated way. While the film attempts to undermine stereotypes regarding Romani people (some Roma find the term “gypsy” to be pejorative), it could also perpetuate stereotypes. For example, numerous times throughout the film, Roma are associated with thievery, uncleanliness, and are depicted as less than human. It is important to note that stereotypes surrounding Roma have occurred for hundreds of years, resulting in ethnic discrimination and ultimately genocide. Throughout the film, Frollo uses euphemisms that hint at his intended genocide of Roma. While his opinions and plans for the Romani people are used to enhance his evilness, the stereotypes he perpetuates have been used in the real world for centuries (and even presently) to dehumanize Roma. For more information regarding general information about Roma, please click here and here. For more information regarding the genocide of Roma during WWII, please click here.
  • The myth of heterosexual love is present in the film as two people with ideal bodies fall in love by the film’s end. Not only does this film perpetuate this myth, but it also highlights the fact that aberrant bodies, such as Quasimodo’s body, cannot acquire romantic love because they are “undesirable.” It is important to note that ideal bodies are not a requirement for romantic love.
  • Events such as the Festival of Fools, or the “peasants’ festival” shown in the film, are often referred to as being carnivalesque. A carnivalesque event allows those who are usually silenced or oppressed in everyday life to temporarily subvert social norms and reverse social hierarchies. For example, the song “Topsy Turvy” references the carnivalesque when it says, “Once a year, we turn all Paris upside down. Every man’s a king and every king’s a clown.” Another example of reversing social norms in the film occurs when Quasimodo attends the Festival of Fools and is pulled on stage to be crowned for winning the “ugliest face in Paris.”
  • Throughout the film, Frollo refers to Esmeralda’s expression of her sexuality as “disgusting” all the while secretly sexually desiring Esmeralda. Frollo depicts sexual desire as “evil,” and regularly uses Catholicism to justify his many hateful thoughts and actions. However, the film attempts to show how Catholicism can offer “good” teachings through the Archdeacon’s character as he willingly takes in Esmeralda and offers her refuge from Frollo.
  • A fear of the Other is a major theme in the film. The film shows how the Other is constructed (stereotypes) and how the fear of the Other can have detrimental consequences. For example, the Roma in the film are stereotyped, and Frollo attempts to rid Paris of all Roma, even if it means killing them. Quasimodo, who regularly interacts with Frollo, thinks that the Romani people are “bad” at the beginning of the film. However, once Quasimodo gets to know Esmeralda, he realizes she is harmless and kind. This interaction, and many others similar to it, suggests that if people of different races/ethnicities took the time to listen and understand one another, then perhaps it would reduce the fear between the groups.

Keywords: movie review, 2 paws, two paws, disability, visible disability, physical disability, disney, family, animated, musical, songs,

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