20 Years Later & I Still Look to Disney's 'Hunchback of Notre Dame' to Morally Guide Me

Walt Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame

Underrated as it may be, Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame has been one of my favorite Disney adaptions since seeing it in the theater 20 years ago today, at just 3 years old. Of all the Disney movies that I've watched, I feel safe in saying that this is one that has stuck with me over time. This movie was more than a pretty princess in need of rescuing. It was way more than the beautiful outfits and bright colors associated with many Disney films. 


Yet many, including Jason Alexander (who voiced Hugo the gargoyle in the 1996 animation), would still probably disapprove of my parents' taking me to see this movie at such a young age. In fact, upon the release, Alexander revealed to Entertainment Weekly that he wouldn't be taking his (then) 4-year-old son to see the movie.

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He told the mag that while "Disney would have us believe this movie's like the Ringling Bros., for children of all ages," he wasn't ready to expose his son to the adult themes throughout the film.

For those of you who can't recall (as it has been quite a while since the release) or just haven't seen the movie, the film is about Quasimodo, otherwise known as the Hunchback of Notre Dame, who desires to live a normal life -- free from his own shame, as well as others'. However, until he meets Esmeralda, he only encounters exploitation and humiliation at the hands of many, but more specifically, Frollo -- an evil dictator type. 

Alexander's complaints aside, my adult self can't help but feel grateful that my parents dared to take me to such a dark and gritty movie at such a young age. Frankly, I'd hope that they'd do it again if given the opportunity, because it's certainly a movie I intend on showing my own (currently nonexistent) children, someday.

Yes, the movie is full of morally corrupt doings and violent scenes, but if you can see past that, then there's a lesson to be taken away from the actions in this movie -- there's a lesson to be learned about humanity. 

I remember (yes, really) sitting in the theater blubbering to my mom and dad, demanding to know why they would ever treat a human being -- namely Quasimodo -- so cruelly. I asked in my empathetic nature that I've grown more accustomed to in the last two decades.

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Why wouldn't Esmeralda love him? Was it because of his hunchback? Why wouldn't they let him out of the cathedral? Why was such a nice, selfless man constantly being broken? 

All these thoughts crossed my little mind, but as I was unable to articulate them as clearly then, it only resulted in further frustration.

While I witnessed all the senseless murdering that took place (obviously, just as saddening), my heart merely focused on the emotional abuse and total disregard for one human being's feelings and emotional well-being -- never the gory details that accompanied my main focus. 

And, even at such a young age, I was able to grasp and carry the movie's lessons with me for a lifetime.

I've grasped that there's a certain way to treat people.

I've grasped that it's unfair to inflict more suffering onto someone whose struggles you know nothing of (or even worse, when you do know his or her struggles). 

I've grasped that you can't always judge a book by its cover. 

So, in many ways, the unjust humiliation that Quasimodo faced was one of my very first lessons in humanity, and for that I'll always be filled with gratitude toward the movie and each of its heart-wrenching moments. 


Image via Walt Disney

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