The plot of the Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame is a water-down and condense version of Hugo’s novel and the 1939 version. Because the film is for children the film couldn’t follow it 100% or even 75% so watering it down is understandable. To the film’s credit it did opt for a darker tone than most Disney movies especially where Frollo is concerned. And for the record there are worse children adaptions and as it stands, it is the best among the Hunchback for kids movies.
So the plot is stripe down to it barest essentials with a lens on Quasimodo and add-ons from the 1939 version. They added a moral, eliminated some characters (Gringoire, Jehan, Louis, Sister Gudule (who is hardly ever mention in the adaptations) and added some characters (The gargoyles).
The basic plot is really about a cute girl and the guys that “love” her and where these men take that love into their psyches. That’s Hugo’s book at it’s most basic level, the problem is that since this book was published in English the focus has been take off Esmeralda (Notre Dame de Paris) and went to Quasimodo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame). And to make it worse, two of the most famous “Hunchback” movies from the golden age of cinema, were vehicles for leading man playing Quasimodo. So the movies really do think that Quasimodo has to be the focus of the film and Disney really bought into this mentally (listen to DVD commentary).
So the Disney plot lies in the moral that Quasimodo inspires, sure he ugly as all hell but he’s beautiful on the inside, and that’s what the plot is trying to teach, don’t judge people. A corrupt, yet pious Judge can still be a an evil jerk. Of course, this moral is as subtle as a ton bricks and the scenes can never shift away from Quasimodo for too long unless it’s a counterpoint to how great he is, and that would be how terrible Frollo is. So Frollo can gets just as many songs and srceen time as Quasimodo. This is why you’ll only see one scene without either Frollo or Quasimodo, which is Phoebus and Esmeralda’s introduction, you could count their time in Notre Dame but Frollo is technically in that scene and since there no cut in locations Quasimodo is there too . That scene of Esmeralda in Notre Dame speaking with Phoebus, getting grope by Frollo, and singing God help the Outcast ends with her following Quasimodo to the bell tower, so it doesn’t really count. So there is only one scene without Quasimodo or Frollo. The plot lives and dies on Frollo and Quasimodo and so the film’s moral is ALSO being referenced during the film’s duration. Even the songs act a method to reference the moral. All of Quasimodo and Frollo’s song are linked by this man vs monster prespective. Clopin is the only character who gets some songs with any levity.
So how was the plot of Disney’s Hunchback? Despite the film’s tunnel view of not giving a character that isn’t Quasimodo or Frollo 5 minutes of screen time. the film’s plot does well. It keeps the overall feeling of the story and makes it kid friendly and that was Disney’s angle and yet gives it a darker edge which help roots the film in Hugo’s book. But the book and the Disney’s version are character driven and not as plot driven so next time let look at the Disney version of Hugo’s characters.
Next time – a brief look at the Characters of Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame