14 reasons “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is the darkest Disney movie

    “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” is the 34th Disney animated movie, released in 1996 and its’ primordial basis is Victor Hugos’ novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. In Paris, in treacherous times, Quasimodo, a misshapen bell ringer whose life has been limited to the bell tower due to villanous judge Frollo, slowly realises the beliefs his master inflicted on him are completely opposed to reality. After Quasimodo disobeys Frollo the story explores all “deformed” wrongdoings of the world: past, present and future with tenebrous implications. Children might not immediately realise the plots’ terryfying hops from one eye gouging scene to another, so it’s a very well thought of animated musical Disney film that richly and devilishly puts the magnyfying glass on the scourge of peoples’ twisted minds and inhumane prowess.


    Throughout the film we see the skinny and raggedy Old Heretic who is a prisoner. Firstly, while being caged, he rolls over a few soldiers and the cage accidentally opens. When he sees that, he rejoyces: “I’m free, I’m free!”. He gets out of the cage only to trip on the cage and get imprisoned in stocks: “Dang it!”, all of this happening in 5 seconds. After another random unchaining from the stocks he doesn’t watch where he’s going and falls in the sewer, repeating his “I’m free, I’m free!” and “Dang it!” . This either might be an attempt at suggesting the remembrance of frivolous, monstrous torture techniques during medieval times and totalitarianism. He might represent that some people are simply that dumb that no one pays attention to them and the many years of slavery, imprisonment. However, he might be the representation of the world “tripping over” many slavery periods throughout the history of mankind.

    2. WHIP

    As we see Captain Phoebus being a nice, subtle, smart, whitty and understanding person, who has just returned from the war, he is on his way to the Palace of Justice to meet with Judge Claude Frollo. The scenes starts with us hearing three whipping sounds in what seems to be a dungeon and we see Frollo talking to the torturer saying: “Stop! Ease up! Wait between lashes, otherwise the old sting will dull him to the new”, says Frollo. In his assesment of Captain Phoebus he mentions that his last Captain was a bit of a disappointment to him and in that moment we hear a scream of the former captain which echoes throughout the dungeon as he is being whipped. Frollo also makes a dark attempt at a cruel joke while saying to Phoebes that “I hope you’ll whip my men into shape.”  This is also one of the times which mentions the war or wars, probably reffering to the Hundred Years’ War which had around three million casualties as a result.


    Photo from IMDB.com

                                        “Choose me…or the fire

    Judge Claude Frollo is one of the most complicated and refreshingly truly evil villains of Disney. He has very deep personal issues because of how he disconsiders gypsies, as he calls them, due to his actual infatuation towards them and especially towards the beautiful Romani Esmeralda. He manages to capture Esmeralda and wants to burn her at the stake in front of the whole town: “The prisoner Esmeralda has been found guilty of the crime of witchcraft. The sentence: death.”Because he is conflicted with himself for pining for Esmeralda he either wants to purify the situation with fire (burn her at the stake) or he will give her a choice of wanting him: “The time has come, gypsy. You stand upon the brink of the abyss. Yet, even now it is not too late. I can save you from the flames of this world and the next.” As she finds him a coward and an awful human being she spits on him as an answer to his choosing offer. As a consequence, Frollo continues: “The gypsy Esmeralda has refused to recant. This evil witch…For justice, for Paris and for her own salvation, it is my sacred duty to send this unholy demon back where she belongs”, he says as he sets fire to the stake.


    Photo from IMDB.com

    As we see Esmeralda dancing in the town with her fellow performers and with a hat in which bypassers could put money in, we realise that not only Frollo discriminates her for being from a different ethnicity: the Roma people or more usually called: gypsies. We see a woman with a child walking by them as they are dancing and playing musical instruments: “Stay away, child!”, she warns her child, “They’re gypsies they’ll steal us blind.” These are some of  the types of stereotypes parents teach their children regarding the Romani people. No one is born racist. Panic sets in when a boy whistles as to alert Esmeralda and her friends of the soldiers who are coming their way. She however doesn’t manage to run on time: “Alright gypsy, where’d you get the money?”, asks one of the soldiers. “For your information I earned it” responds Esmeralda almost in a tone of despise as she is tough and she knows how to handle soldiers. “Gypsies don’t earn money”, continues the soldier.


    Photo from IMDB.com

    Carrying Quasimido and attempting to enter the city of Paris illegally, four frightened gypsies arrive at the docks near Notre Dame. Here, we might also recognise a dark secret of the family of gypsies who had Quasimodo. Because Quasimodo starts to cry as his family tries to sneak around the supposed father says: “Shut it up, will you?”, not referencing to Quasimodo lovingly as him but as “it”. This might mean that Quasimodo was adopted by the family of gypsies in order for them to make money off of him. Unfortunately, they get caught by no other than Frollo who referred to them as “gypsy vermin”. The woman carrying Quasimodo started to run away but was chased by Frollo on his horse.

    Photo from disney.fandom.com

    After she reaches the cathedral, she desperately claims “sanctuary” whilst knocking on the door, but no one answers. That is when Frollo tries to grab her baby which he thought were stolen goods and because she hold on to the baby so dearly, Frollo kicked her with his boot giving her that fatal blow as she falls and hits her head on the steps of Notre Dame. She is gruesomely depicted as dead, even for an animation. Looking at the baby, Frollo realises that the baby is “a monster” and plans to throw it in a nearby well but the Archdeacon stops him reminding him of the innocent blood he just spilled.

    Photo from rebloggy.com

    Frollo’s reason for attempt at infanticide is that the baby is an “unholy demon”. Because Minister Frollo doesn’t flinch when the Archdeacon reminds him of the guilt he should feel for these wrongdoings, he certainly is afraid of the eyes of Notre Dame. In all fairness, they do look scary and seem to instill fear even in Frollo’s mind because he decides to keep the baby in the bell tower.


    Photo from IMDB.com

    When Quasimodo and Phoebus find the Romani peoples’ secret hideout the “Court of Miracles” they are immediately ambushed, gagged and taken to be hanged by the Romani people who were very vigilent and thought they were spies. Luckily, just as Clopin, the serious yet funny clown is about to pull the human skull encrusted lever and hang them Esmeralda stops them explaining their good intentions. Although it is comedic how they won’t give them a fair trail and as they are gagged they can’t speak the scene still refers to hanging, a disturbing dark fact.


    Photo from IMDB.com

    As Quasimodo’s mother asked for sanctuary at the beginning of the film, the request for sanctuary keeps coming up throughout the movie showing that religion is the only helper against enemies, such as Frollo, or government officials with power. The most emotional scene for requesting sanctuary is the one in which Quasimodo saves Esmeralda from burning at the stake. Shouting “Sanctuary!”  three times while lifting an unconscious due to inhaled smoke Esmeralda is a very powerful depiction of the fact that some people had to always be on the run never having anything stable except for the safety that the Church provided them. It is a dark thought to think that the only thing that could save you is to be in one place. Throughout the history, the Romani people have been safely hiding from the ones who were trying to harm them in Sanctuaries. Earlier in the movie, Captain Pheobus doesn’t want to arrest Esmeralda so he tells her to claim Sanctuary.   


    Photo from IMDB.com

    The animated film presents Quasimodo, the deformed hunchback who was raised by Frollo and who taught him all the wrong things and made him believe people will only mock him for his appearance. As the movie gets darker somehow the mockery becomes real. Quasimodo doesn’t even realise he is not free. After overthinking his decision, he decides to sneak into the festival. It is supposed that the Feast of Fools, a specifically french festival took place in 1482. This Middle Ages festivals’ main purpose was for the buffoons to trade places with the high officials, or as the movie states, the crowning of the King of Fools. The towns people realise that Quasimodo isn’t wearing a hideous mask and that is just his natural face, so they crown him King of Fools. There is also the mention of Topsy-Turvy which means upside down as the people switch roles in society for the amusement of others. All is well and good until a soldier throws a tomato at him and the townies follow his lead. Quasimodo gets to be publicly shamed as well as pelted with vegetables, restrained with ropes. Tied down and spinned around all turning into a dark, awful scene. As Clopin sings the Topsy-Turvy song we discover yet another dark reference to the demonic : “Its’ the day the devil in us gets released; It’s the day we mock the prig and shock the priest”. Here, they are referring to the opression that Frollo sets and to drinking, violence and mockery.        

      In the scene where Quasimodo forces the chains he has been restrained with we can observe a similarity to Samson in the Bible, yet another dark story which ends in death. Samson was a judge in the Hebrew Bible with supernatural powers whose death has been interpreted as him asking God for strength to break down the pillars which were holding him back. It is unclear if he pushed them apart or pulled them together, but nevertheless Samson died bringing down the whole temple killing the people inside as well. We can definitely see the resemblance when Quasimodo breaks the cathedral pillars as he succeeds in freeing  himself, the only difference being that Quasimodo doesn’t die.

    8. LUST and HELLFIRE

    Photo from IMDB.com

    As Frollo is about to sing Hellfire, he is introduced through the Archdeacon singing the beginning of Confiteor (a latin prayer) which is based on the confession of sins (which Frollo is about to do). It is said that Romani women were used back in the day simply for the pleasures of men. The most dark scene in the Hunchback of Notre Dame is the song “Hellfire” sung by Judge Frollo. The song starts with “Beata Maria” which can be translated to Blessed Mary, proving that Frollo is very religious. The film mostly has its’ roots in the angelic-demonic opposition between ”Heaven’s Light” and “Hellfire”. As Clopin sang in the beginning of the movie Frollo “longed to purge the world of vice and sin, and he saw corruption everywhere except within.” That is the basis of Frollo: his lust for Esmeralda is one of the Seven Deadly Sins who are also presented in the lyrics of Hellfire. Frollo blames Esmeralda for his desire to have her, here probably referring to the sexual object Esmeralda is suggested to be for Frollo. He begins to sing that he is a righteous man of what he is “justly proud” representing again one of the Seven Deadly sins: Pride. The verse “let her be mine and mine alone” shows Envy and this wanting for Esmeralda shows her as an object which he and only he should have showing Greed, another two of the Seven Deadly Sins. His continuous desire to destroy Esmeralda and see her burn show his Wrath.


    Frollo exhibits Sloth when he blames his own problems on Esmeralda.As the guard enters during him singing his wrath amplifies while the guard tells him that Esmeralda escaped. Gluttony is shown when he will “burn down all of Paris” to find her putting his needs before the citizens’. This covers all the Seven Deadly Sins along with temptation as well. Other dark religious references can be found in this song . The red hooded priests appear as Frollo’s subconscious (he is fighting himself). As he sings “It’s not my fault” the priests sing “Mea culpa” which means “My fault”. As the song ends, Frollo collapses on the floor in the shape of the Cross of Saint Peter, an inverted latin Cross referencing the death of Jesus and unworthiness. The tragedy of Frollo wanting the flames of hell to destroy Esmeralda is actually a tragic story about him falling in love.

    Photo from IMDB.com

    In the scene where Esmeralda is hunted down by Frollo for making him look bad at the “Feast of Fools” , she luckily claims Sanctuary in Notre Dame so she doesn’t get arrested. This is a rather inappropriate scene for children as its’ core represents lust portrayed in a dark way. Frollo sneaks up behind Esmeralda and hold her hand behind her back while he weirdly smells her hair from behind. Here is the first hint that Minister Frollo wants her as an object but he refuses to admit that and covers it up with wanting her hanged:  “Gypsies don’t do well behind stone walls”.Here he might be referring to the already dead Romani people Frollo has killed in his Palace of Justice. He goes on to say: “I was just imagining a rope around that beautiful neck” and to make the worst possible Esmeralda responds sarcastically: “I know what you were imagining”.


    Photo from IMDB.com

    Not all Disney villains are as bad to the bone as Frollo. He deserved the firey death that came as he was trying to kill Esmeralda and Quasimodo on the balcony of Notre Dame. He was reciting a biblical verse with reference to God: “And he shall smite the wicked and plunge them into the fiery pit.” In that moment the gargoyle he was standing on catches life and roars at him. It breaks from the cathedral walls and Frollo plummets into fire head first. He, who has been teaching Quasimodo about eternal damnation gets to feel it.


    Photo from the telegraph.co.uk

    Esmeraldas’ goat friend is named Djali and what is weird is that the gargoyle Hugo is very attracted to the goat. It is probably a strange assumption to be based on zoophilia with goats but it is a possibility. It is probable that the three gargoyles represent Quasimodos’ inner thoughts and desires. Throughout the movie we see and hear Hugo praising the goat and admiring him besides making kissy faces at Djali. Hugo also shows his love for Djali by drawing him instead of Esmeralda like the other gargoyles durin the song “Heaven’s Light”.


    As a little flirtation with the dark side, Esmeralda seduces Frollo when she dances at the Feast of Fools. She is wearing a red dress with purple sleeves. Red is known as the colour to bring bad luck to gypsies but Esmeralda is wearing this dress as a resemblance to the Whore of Babylon. The Whore of  Babylon is a female symbol of the Mother of Prostitutes and Abominations of the Earth, as Esmeralda shows off her body curves and is friends with Quasimodo, the “abomination”. She is also wearing what seem to be gold cuffs, a gold tiara and gold hoop earrings. She shows how exotic of a dancer she is through what resembles pole dancing. Also it is a sexual observation that her dress is skin-tight, when dresses don’t normally look like that.

    12. GOTHIC

    The animators of this film were very meticulous in the design of Notre Dame. It is as beautiful as it is dark and gloomy as its’ gothic style is represented to pointy features and fearsome, imposing statues.


    Photo from IMDB.com

    The rather unsettling chants heard in the movie have a bit of a dark history behind them. Not only they sound like the apocalypse is coming their foundation is Mozart’s “Requiem”, which is Mass for the Dead or Funeral Mass. The hymn Dies Irae is a rather dark one and can be heard as background chorus to Clopins’ “The Belles of Notre Dame” as Frollo is about to throw baby Quasimodo in the well. “Dies Irae” means the “Day of Wrath” and its’ first verses are disturbing and dark as well: Day of wrath and doom impending
                  David’s word with Sibyl’s blending,
                         Heaven and earth in ashes ending.

    Frollo promised himself he would burn down all of Paris to find Esmeralda and so he did. He started out by going to a humble family that might or might not have harbored Roma people in their house. After the man asks for mercy from Frollo, he puts the family under house arrest and tells Captain Phoebus to burn their house down while they are still trapped inside. Phoebus refuses and so Frollo sets fire to the windmill in which innocents were trapped.

    Photo from disney.fandom.com 


    Genocide and entering without a warrant wasn’t a punishable offense at the time. “There’ll be a little bonfire in the square tomorrow”, says Frollo with a smirk. That’s when we see again the whole of Paris burning as Frollo went from house to house searching for Esmeralda and ransacking peoples’ houses. The fact that Paris is burning is proof of Frollo’s twisted love for Esmeralda and his insanity caused by her.


    Photo from IMDB.com

    Victor, Laverne and Hugo are the three gargoyles that lighten up the mood in this dark movie. It is supposed because they appear only when Quasimodo is alone that they are three figments of his imagination as he guides himself through his decision making process. It is undoubtable that they are hilarious but they also have a dark background. It is said that they are actually called “grotesques” and not gargoyles. Grotesques are more specifically assigned to the religious domains as they represent a Godless world, a world of fantastical creatures and monsters.