Writers present differences between theatre and Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame


By Madison Fuson and Eleni Pappas

Art by Eleni Pappas

The musical opens with mysterious, hooded figures standing on wooden platforms. The stage is still dark, and as the show begins, the choir sits, narrating actors joining and revealing themselves to recollect the story of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, a classic story known for its dark or surreal elements and vivid imagery. The story is both a musical and a Disney movie production based off the novel published in 1831 by Victor Hugo.

The story centers around a bell ringer named Quasimodo, who is locked away in the bell towers from the outside world for his deformation—being “too different” and “ugly” to the normal folks. Quasimodo leaves the bell tower, despite his master Monseigneur Claude Frollo’s, warnings. Once out, he meets the enchanting gypsy Esmeralda who, alongside the other gypsies, are considered to be subservient by Frollo.  

Disney’s film adaptation of the book was released on June 21, 1996 and became the fifth highest grossing film of that year. From finding one’s place in society to dealing with sin to extreme topics like infanticide, because of this, the movie is considered one of Disney’s darker themed films and much had to be altered from the novel in order for it to get the PG rating. With directing by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise (Beauty and The Beast, Atlantis: The Lost Empire) and famous actors voice acting such as Demi Moore (Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, G.I. Jane) the film was set up to be a huge success.

Disney’s version first starts in 1482, in Paris with the gypsy Clopin Trouillefou, voiced by Paul Kandel, who opens the story with a puppet show for curious children. The story begins with Monseigneur Claude Frollo, the film’s villain, on a horse pursuing gypsies attempting to flee from him. Frollo chases one of the gypsies, a mother, to the church and causes her death upon the stairs of the cathedral, Notre Dame. Frollo sees the deformed child and goes to drop him in the well when he is stopped by the archdeacon. He is then made to take in the disfigured child in order to atone for his sins he committed in the eyes of the holy church. This child is named Quasimodo, meaning half-formed, and due to his differences, he is kept away in a tower, with only stone gargoyles as friends.

When the Festival of Fools arrives, Quasimodo sneaks out against Frollo’s wishes. At the festival, he meets Esmeralda, who believes his face to be a mask. She pulls Quasimodo on stage for “The King of Fools,” a contest which searches for the ugliest face in Paris. When the crowd goes wild by Quasimodo’s blemishes, the gypsy girl stops the crowd, earning Frollo’s anger. Quasimodo must work to save the girl from Frollo’s subsequent wrath.

The musical put on by the FC Theatre Department on Feb. 9, 11, 16, 17, and 18, was based on the original novel by Victor Hugo, called Notre-Dame de Paris. The main cast includes Junior Noah Hankins as Dom Claude Frollo, Senior Mitchell Lewis as Quasimodo, Senior Logan McNeeley as Clopin Trouillefou, Junior Jesse Johnson as Phoebus de Martin, and Junior Elizabeth Hallal as Esmeralda.

The show starts to narrators recalling of how the Hunchback, Quasimodo, came to dwell in the tower. It starts out with brothers Jehan and Claude Frollo, Jehan being wild and Claude Frollo, his opposite, being devoted to Notre Dame. Jehan brings a gypsy to the church but is caught and banished by the bishop. With his brother gone, Claude Frollo rises to the rank of archdeacon. News of Jehan on the verge of death reaches Claude, and Claude goes to his side in attempt to persuade Jehan to come back with him to heal him from his illness and sins. However, before Jehan’s final breath, he asks of his brother to show mercy to the deformed child, Quasimodo, he and the gypsy had before her own death. Frollo does take the child in, but his distortion keeps him locked in the tower, away from civilization.

Although both of them are based off Victor Hugo’s novel, they are not exactly the same. Disney, a company targeting a family audience, does have to be cautious as to what it publishes as a mass media company. Disney had to change their script and work around the family rating, leaving out much of the mature and shocking themes to make it appropriate for all ages. Apart from the more graphic depictions of the musical, the conclusion stayed true to the novel’s ending, while Disney altered it for a happy ending. The characters of the Disney production were adapted for the villain-hero outcome while the musical enriched its characters. The characters have their own flaws and advantages, whether that be lust, demanding respect or physical appearance.

However, as much as the backstories differ, most of the main characters remained the same, with Quasimodo, Frollo, Esmeralda and Phoebus. In both, the men fell in love with Esmeralda for her beauty, compassion or acceptance. For both, the main theme still remains about coming to terms with your flaws.

Both representations may show different things, one more canon to the novel, but their theme still stands. Despite the format of the story, The Hunchback of Notre Dame will remain a staple of world history.

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