It’s a trope that’s almost guaranteed to appear in any Disney film: the young hero/heroine is admonished by an authority figure NOT to do something; they do it anyway and as a result they end up in big trouble. Such is the case in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996). The sweet Quasimodo is compelled to live in the bell tower of the cathedral by his reluctant guardian Frollo on the grounds that the outside world is evil and dangerous (a similar argument is used by Mother Gothel years later on Rapunzel). Quasimodo wants more than anything to go out among the people, so when the annual ‘Feast of Fools’ comes around, the bell ringer can’t take it anymore and sneaks out to join in the festivities.
From the moment I watched this film in the theater, I knew something bad was going to happen at some point. Either Quasimodo was going to get caught, locked up, or something. And when Frollo arrived in his carriage, I thought the moment was imminent. But then…nothing seemed to happen. True, Quasimodo was found out, but instead of being rejected, he’s crowned ‘King of Fools’ by the audience and paraded around the city (much to Frollo’s displeasure, though it seems he can’t do anything about it for the moment). For a brief moment, I actually believed that things were going to be okay…and then the real trouble started.
Suddenly, two guards lob tomatoes at Quasimodo, prompting the rest of the crowd to join in (I’m not sure if this is an annual thing or if this is just a case of mob mentality). So far the scene has just turned cruel; what makes it disturbing is when the crowd ties Quasimodo down to the platform when he tries to run away, spinning him around so everyone can get a good shot at him. Even the colors turn darker (starting when Quasimodo is tied down and his hump is exposed), highlighting how wrong and terrible this situation is.
As someone who suffered from a lot of bullying in school, this scene has never failed to trigger me. Quasimodo’s perspective of viewing these people who were cheering him minutes ago and are now hurting him and laughing while they do it is just heartbreaking. It gets even worse when Frollo forbids Phoebus from intervening, stating that “a lesson needs to be learned here.” I don’t know why I felt surprised at Frollo’s actions; on further consideration, it’s likely he felt the crowd’s treatment was far worse than any punishment he could have devised for Quasimodo.
While it’s true that Esmeralda steps in to stop the abuse, the damage has already been done. The Quasimodo that stumbles back into the cathedral is broken now in a way that he wasn’t when the film started. Before, he at least had his dream of someday going out among the people, now he doesn’t even have that.
This scene is a classic example of why I started the Disturbing Disney series and it makes for a fitting entry (the 20th in the series!)
What do you think of this scene? Does it disturb you? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a good day!
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