The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • A deformed bell-ringer must assert his independence from a vicious government minister in order to help his friend, a gypsy dancer.

  • In 15th century Paris, Clopin the puppeteer tells the story of Quasimodo, the misshapen but gentle-souled bell ringer of Notre Dame, who was nearly killed as a baby by Claude Frollo, the Minister of Justice. But Frollo was forced by the Archdeacon of Notre Dame to raise Quasimodo as his own. Now a young man, Quasimodo is hidden from the world by Frollo in the belltower of the cathedral. But during the Festival of Fools, Quasimodo, cheered on by his gargoyle friends Victor, Hugo, and Laverne, decides to take part in the festivities, where he meets the lovely gypsy girl Esmeralda and the handsome soldier Phoebus. The three of them find themselves ranged against Frollo's cruelty and his attempts to destroy the home of the gypsies, the Court of Miracles. And Quasimodo must desperately defend both Esmeralda and the very cathedral of Notre Dame.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • On a street in Paris, during the Middle Ages, a Gypsy named Clopin performs puppet shows for children. Before starting his next show, he draws attention to the bells ringing in the nearby Cathedral of Notre Dame. He offers to tell the tale of the mysterious bell-ringer--who he is, and how he came to the cathedral:

    Twenty years ago, on a cold winter night, four Gypsies sneaked into Paris on a hired riverboat; the Gypsies were persecuted in Paris (and possibly all over France), so the only way to enter the city without being arrested was to sneak in. These particular Gypsies consisted of two men, one woman, and her child (it is implied that one of the men was the husband and father to the last two mentioned). Upon landing, however, the group was ambushed and arrested.

    The man leading the arrest was Judge Claude Frollo, the Minister of Justice. He is the primary instigator of the persecution and oppression against the Gypsies in Paris, claiming that their ways will corrupt the other citizens. He arrested the men, but when he ordered his troops to take the bundle in the woman's arms (mistakenly assuming them to be stolen goods), she ran. Though he was on horseback, she outmaneuvered him by using shortcuts too small for his horse. She made it to the doors of the Cathedral of Notre Dame to claim sanctuary, but because it was nighttime the doors were locked. Before they could be opened, Frollo caught up with her. He wrested the bundle from her grasp, kicking her while doing so; she fell back and hit her head on the stone steps, which killed her.

    The baby started to cry. When Frollo pulled back the cloth surrounding him, he gasped in horror, proclaiming the baby to be a monster (the baby is never shown). He nearly dropped the infant down a well, but he was stopped by the Archdeacon of the cathedral, who condemned his killing of the woman and his attempt to kill the baby. Though Frollo tried to justify his actions, deceiving himself, the Archdeacon reminded him that God, the angels, etc, are fully aware of what he had done--as much as if the statues of the cathedral itself were alive and aware of what they just witnessed. Being fearful for his salvation, Claude Frollo asked what he needed to do, and the Archdeacon told him to raise the child as if he were his own. He reluctantly agreed, but only on the condition that the child lived up in the bell-towers of Notre Dame, away from public view. He wondered to himself if the child might be of use to him in the future.

    Clopin reveals the child's name given by Frollo: Quasimodo, signifying in Latin "half-formed" [not a literal translation]. (Sometimes he's called "Quasi" for short.) He concludes his tale about "a man and a monster" by saying, " 'Now here is a riddle to guess if you can,' sing the bells of Notre Dame. 'Who is the monster, and who is the man?' "

    Meanwhile, the now adult Quasimodo walks out onto a balcony at the base of the bell-towers of Notre Dame, and he is shown to be severely deformed, the most prominent feature being his hunched back. After a brief moment where he helps a young bird learn to fly, he envies the bird and goes back in to his home inside one of the bell-towers. It is filled with old statues; a stained-glass mobile; and wooden models (made by Quasi) of the Notre Dame Cathedral, houses, and various citizens of Paris. He speaks with three stone gargoyles named Victor, Hugo, and LaVerne [who are presumed to be real and alive in this synopsis; it can be argued that they are part of Quasi's imagination, but there are certain scenes which imply they are more than that, as well as scenes in the Direct-to-Video sequel]. He laments that Frollo will not allow him to attend the Festival (or Feast) of Fools later that day, or even leave the bell towers on any other day, but the gargoyles convince him to go out in disguise.

    Before he can enact his plan, Frollo arrives with Quasi's lunch, and the gargoyles revert to inanimate stone (they only come alive when Quasi's alone). While going over his alphabet lessons, Quasimodo accidentally reveals his desire to attend the festival. Frollo insists that the Festival of Fools is an affront to everything good, and that he himself only goes because of his duties as a public official. He lies to Quasi, reminding him how his Gypsy mother supposedly abandoned him as a baby, and Frollo was the only one who took him in. [Ironically, that's what happened in the book.] Using these lies, he describes the world as far too harsh and cruel for someone like Quasimodo, and that the cathedral is his only sanctuary. However, in spite of his warnings, Quasi still decides to attend in secret--reasoning that to spend just one day out among everyone else would be worth it.

    Elsewhere in the city, a newly arrived man named Phoebus (along with his horse, Achilles) search in vain for the Palace of Justice. He comes across some performing Gypsies, including the beautiful dancer Esmeralda. They catch each others eye, but before they can speak some city guards come along on patrol. The other Gypsies manage to get away, but Esmeralda gets caught and harassed--accused of stealing the money given by passers-by for their performances. As she struggles to break free, her goat Djali (pronounced like "jolly") loosens their grips with a few well-placed kicks and headbutts. Phoebus then uses Achilles to keep the guards from pursuing, much to the onlookers' (and Esmeralda's) amusement. Before they can retaliate, Phoebus reveals himself to be the new Captain of the Guard and orders them to take him to the Palace of Justice. Esmeralda watches him from hiding, clearly interested in and intrigued by him.

    Upon arriving at the Palace, Phoebus meets Minister Frollo in the dungeon (where the former Captain of the Guard is being whipped off-screen, much to Phoebus' discomfort). They go out to a balcony where Frollo tasks Phoebus with the top priority of rooting out the Gypsies by finding and destroying their safe haven, which they call the Court of Miracles. Phoebus appears to be skeptical about the whole thing, and probably about Frollo in general, but he mostly keeps his concerns to himself. Hearing the music for the Feast of Fools begin in the distance, they leave to attend.

    From the start of the Feast of Fools, Quasimodo (disguised with a cloak) is like a fish out of water, thanks in no small part to Clopin's antics. During the chaos and commotion, he accidentally stumbles into Esmeralda's tent while she's changing for a dance. She checks to see if he's alright, and he tries in vain to hide his face. However, to his surprise, she isn't phased at all when she sees it. She sends him on his way, and ends by saying, "By the way, great mask!" Quasimodo smiles at the irony.

    Frollo, Phoebus, and the guards arrive at the festival soon afterward, just in time for Esmeralda's dance. She appears on the stage wearing a revealing red silk dress instead of her normal attire. Frollo, Phoebus, and Quasimodo (and basically everybody else) are all captivated by her--though Frollo hides this by voicing his disgust to Phoebus. However, when she approaches him playfully as part of her act, he is speechless. She also notices Quasi during her performance and acknowledges him with a wink, which embarrasses him. The crowd goes wild as she concludes her dance in a glamorous fashion.

    Clopin announces the next item on the agenda, which comes in stark contrast to Esmeralda: They are to crown the "King of Fools," an award to the one who can make the ugliest face in Paris. The contestants go up on stage wearing masks, and then make a face when the mask is removed. Esmeralda innocently invites Quasimodo up on the stage to take part. After all the other contestants are booed (and booted off the stage by Djali), Esmeralda tries to take off Quasi's "mask." She is shocked and frightened when she discovers he wears no mask. The townspeople are horrified, and one of them realizes he must be the infamous bell-ringer of Notre Dame (he being a "Boo-Radley-esque" urban legend among them). Frollo hadn't noticed Quasi on the stage up to this point, but he is shocked and disappointed once he does.

    Quasi starts to hide his face and cry, but Clopin asks the crowd not to panic. He points out that they all asked for the ugliest face in Paris, and surely he fits the bill perfectly. Quickly the crowd goes from repulsion to celebration. As they carry him to a platform in front of the cathedral, Quasi waves sheepishly to Frollo, who scowls in response. He's given a jester's crown, as well as a robe and scepter. They begin chanting his name, and he celebrates along with them.

    Unfortunately, one of the guards who harassed Esmeralda earlier hits Quasimodo in the face with a tomato. Other guards quickly follow suit. Though the rest of the crowd is shocked at first, they soon see the cruel humor of the situation, so they turn on Quasi. When he tries to get away, people begin to lasso him down. With strength born from years of ringing the enormous bells, Quasimodo pulls many of the ropes off, but he is ultimately overpowered and tied to a wheel on the platform. After tying him, the men give the wheel a vigorous turn, and the crowd continues to pelt him with produce. He calls out to Frollo for help, but it's in vain; when Phoebus asks permission to stop the cruelty, Frollo tells him, "In a moment, Captain. A lesson needs to be learned here."

    However, the shouting and throwing immediately stops when Esmeralda begins to climb the stairs up the platform; she went back to her tent after her last interaction with Quasi in order to change back into her normal clothes, but she quickly returned afterward once she saw what was happening. She approaches slowly, almost hesitantly, and looks at Quasi with pity and sorrow. She asks him not to be afraid as she approaches and wipes the tomato juice from his face, saying, "I'm sorry... This wasn't supposed to happen."

    Frollo orders her to come down, and she replies she will once she frees Quasi from the ropes. When he forbids her, she cuts them anyway defiantly. She calls him out on his wicked behavior and hypocrisy, saying, "You mistreat this poor boy the same way you mistreat my people! You speak of 'justice,' yet you are cruel to those most in need of your help!" The crowd stares in awe at her standing up to Frollo. He tells her she'll regret her actions. She, in turn, says he should have been the one crowned King of Fools. Frollo orders Phoebus to arrest her. When he sends his guards for her, however, she manages to evade capture and hide through quick wits, acrobatics, "smoke and mirrors" trickery (which Frollo assumed to be witchcraft), and the favor of the crowd. Frollo is furious, and Phoebus is infatuated. Nevertheless, the guards continue their search.

    Meanwhile, Frollo approaches Quasimodo, and with only a look expresses his anger and disappointment with him; saying "I told you so" isn't necessary. Quasi, in tears, replies, "I'm sorry, Master. I will never disobey you again..." He stumbles back to the Cathedral of Notre Dame through the fearful and murmuring crowd.

    Afterward, Esmeralda and Djali sneak into the cathedral disguised as a hunched old man in a hooded cloak (similar to Quasimodo's disguise earlier). Phoebus sees through the disguise, but doesn't alert anyone else; instead, he follows her inside. Despite his attempt to approach her quietly, she detects his presence behind her. She turns quickly, pulls his sword out of his sheath, and throws him to the floor. Soon afterward though he takes the sword back and knocks her down. She nearly swears at him (he stops her--pointing out they're in a church), picks up a large candelabrum, and proceeds to duel with him--accompanied with appropriate banter. He surprises her though when he makes it clear he has no desire or intention of arresting her. Instead, he gives her his name and asks for hers in return. She gives it, remarking that he's nothing like the other soldiers.

    However, before anything else can be said, Frollo and several of his guards enter; he thanks Phoebus for finding her, and orders him to arrest her. Esmeralda thinks Phoebus tricked her into staying in place for her to get caught. Instead, Phoebus tells Frollo that she claimed sanctuary, so he can't arrest her. Before Frollo can press the issue, the Archdeacon approaches and tells him to leave her be. He reminds Frollo in vague terms of the last time he violated the law of sanctuary, much to his anger. Frollo sends the guards out, but while the Archdeacon (and Djali) escorts Phoebus out, Frollo sneaks around the pillars and pins Esmeralda's arm behind her back. He threatens her, saying that he can out-wait her and that eventually she will have to exit the cathedral, and then she'll be his. During the course of this threat, it's made clear that he is aroused by Esmeralda--much to her disgust (and his, in a sense).

    After he leaves, she checks and sees that Frollo has guards posted at every door. The Archdeacon warns her not to do anything too rash, that for her safety it would be unwise to anger Frollo more. She justifies her actions by pointing out the injustice and mercilessness of the crowd who abused Quasimodo, and Frollo who let it happen; she had hoped that if one would stand up to Frollo, that this would give people courage to stand up together. Seeing her frustration, the Archdeacon tells her she cannot right all the wrongs in the world, but that even if no one else in the world would help her, perhaps there was "someone" else who would.

    Taking his words to heart, Esmeralda prays (through song) for God to help all the outcasts of the world. Quasimodo, who had retreated back up to the bell-tower, hears her praying and goes down to the main floor to watch her. He is touched by her prayer. However, one of the parishioners sees him and berates him, saying he's caused enough trouble today. He runs back up the staircase, but Esmeralda follows him, saying she wants to talk to him. The gargoyles see her following him, remarking that perhaps the day wasn't a total loss after all. They congratulate him, and thus detain him to allow Esmeralda to catch up. He makes excuses to continue to run, but as she follows him she apologizes for bringing him up on the stage--that had she known who he was, she would have never taken his privacy so callously. When she reaches his home in the tower though, she is silenced with awe by the things inside. She inspects the models of the city, remarking that if she could make things like them she wouldn't be "dancing in the street for coins." He compliments her dancing though, which she accepts bashfully. When she recognizes the wood carvings of people as specific individuals in Paris, she says, "You're a surprising person, Quasimodo."

    He offers to give her and Djali a tour of the rest of the tower; she accepts. He shows her the bells, which she enjoys (particularly "Big Marie," the largest one). He then takes her up to the roof of the tower and shows her the sunset. She compliments the tower via hyperbole, saying "I could stay up here forever." When Quasimodo points out she could mean that literally too, she declines--at least not as a prisoner. Through the course of their conversation, Esmeralda learns that Frollo raised him, and that he taught him misconceptions about Gypsies (that they were evil)--and about himself personally; he calls himself a monster. To help him see otherwise, she takes his hand and gives him a palm reading, during which she declares she could find no "monster lines" on his palm. She offers him to see hers and asks, "Do you think I'm evil?" When he declares it isn't so, she replies that perhaps Frollo is wrong about both of them.

    After a moment of silence, Quasimodo feels inspired to help Esmeralda escape her current predicament as payback for her kindness to him earlier. He proposes they climb down from the outside--with Quasi carrying Esmeralda while she holds Djali. She accepts, despite understandable nervousness. Though there are a few close calls, they manage to succeed. Before she leaves, she offers Quasimodo to come with her to the Court of Miracles. He declines, referring to his awful experience earlier--so she offers to come by the cathedral instead, in spite of the danger she would face. He objects, but she calms his fears with some simple yet powerful persuasion. As she leaves, she gives him a necklace with a woven pendant, saying it is the key to being able to find her if he "ever needs sanctuary."

    When he climbs back up to the rooftop, he is approached by Phoebus, who asks if he knows where Esmeralda was. Quasimodo makes it known in no uncertain terms that he isn't welcome there, but Phoebus insists that he means her no harm. He asks Quasi to tell her that he's sorry he got her trapped in the cathedral, but that it was the only way to save her life. On his way out, Phoebus also asks him to tell her that she's lucky to have a friend like Quasi (which surprises him).

    The gargoyles congratulate Quasimodo on kicking Phoebus out for intruding and "trying to steal [his] girl." Quasi is incredulous of their assertions that Esmeralda has any feelings for him other than friendship, reminding them that he has the ugliest face in all of Paris--saying, "I don't think I'm her type." Yet he also wonders (through song) if it might possibly be true, describing the way she makes him feel as "heaven's light" and calling her "an angel." As he muses, he makes a wood carving of her, and places it next to his own.

    Meanwhile in the Palace of Justice, Claude Frollo feels the opposite towards Esmeralda (and towards himself, though he is slow to admit it). He prays (also through song) about how in spite of his moral strength relative to others, he has fallen for Esmeralda, thus committing the sin of lust. He describes the way she makes him feel as "hell fire" and calls her a "witch" and a "siren." As he stands before the fireplace, he imagines the flames and smoke taking her form in a seductive fashion. He blames everyone but himself for his feelings and sins. He asks, as punishment for her temptations, that she either be destroyed or "be [his] and [his] alone." At this time one of the guards arrives and tells Frollo that Esmeralda has escaped the cathedral. Frollo sends him out and declares that he'll find her even if he has to burn Paris to the ground to do so. He directs his unholy prayer to Esmeralda, saying, "Be mine or you will burn!" He concludes, "God have mercy on her... God have mercy on me."

    The next morning, though he is sleep deprived, he orders Phoebus and his men to assemble--giving them the order to "find the Gypsy girl." He accompanies them and has them ransack Gypsy wagons and known hiding places--offering silver pieces to any Gypsy who would reveal Esmeralda's location. Nobody accepts the offer. As Frollo orders more and more Gypsies to be arrested, Phoebus' disgust and indignation grows. They eventually arrive at a mill on the outskirts of Paris, where Esmeralda has followed them in disguise (presumably to find out what exactly is going on). Inside, Frollo is interrogating the miller about a Gypsy talisman that was found on their property. (It is unclear whether this talisman was actually found there, or if this was a false accusation by Frollo.) The miller proclaims his innocence and ignorance on the matter, but Frollo tells him and his family that they will be under house arrest until they can verify the claim.

    However, when Frollo bars the door from the outside, he orders Phoebus to burn the mill--saying that they are traitors and need to be made examples. Phoebus protests, and when Frollo refuses to back down he extinguishes his torch in open insubordination. Fixed in his mind, Frollo lights the mill himself, which burns quickly. Phoebus jumps in through the window and kicks open the door from the inside, carrying the miller's infant and toddler, and leading him and his wife outside--just before the mill collapses. As the family runs for safety, Phoebus is struck in the back of the head by one of the guards. While he is held in place, Frollo sentences him to death on the spot, expressing sorrow for his wasted career. Phoebus retorts, "Consider it my highest honor, sir."

    Before he is beheaded, Esmeralda saves his life with a well-aimed sling throw that hits Frollo's horse, making it buck. Phoebus uses the distraction to floor the guards, and he escapes on the horse. However, before he can get clear of Frollo's archers, he is struck between his cuirass and pauldron (or torso and shoulder armor) by an arrow. Being on a bridge as it happened, he falls off the horse and into the water below. Frollo and his troops catch up, and he orders them to simply let Phoebus "rot in his watery grave" and continue to search for Esmeralda. Meanwhile, Esmeralda herself sneaks under the bridge, and when the others move a safe distance away she dives into the river. She removes Phoebus' weighty armor and brings him to shore.

    As fires spread throughout Paris, Frollo puzzles over how Esmeralda could have possibly escaped the cathedral. When he hears the bells ringing, he realizes that only Quasimodo could have managed to get her out unnoticed. The perspective switches to Quasi, who worries about Esmeralda. Two of the gargoyles, Victor and Laverne, share his concerns--but Hugo expresses confidence that she's one step ahead of Frollo as usual; not only this, but he tells Quasi she'll be back for him once the city calms down--a sentiment the other two gargoyles agree upon. They say (through song) that Quasimodo is more unique than any other guy in the city, and that what he views as his flaws are actually the things that would endear him to Esmeralda. Quasi doubts she has feelings for him, but even he begins to believe their assurances.

    Coincidentally, Esmeralda enters the bell-tower at the end of the song. However, instead of coming just to see Quasimodo, she comes seeking shelter for Phoebus--Quasimodo being one of the only people she can trust to keep him safe outside of the Court of Miracles itself (if not the only person). She also needs to tend his wounds more thoroughly, which could only be done in a safe place. Quasi shows them to a relatively comfortable spot in the tower (probably where he sleeps). Esmeralda and Phoebus talk while Quasimodo watches and listens nearby. She disinfects his arrow-wound with wine and sews it shut, and he expresses his discomfort with witty remarks. She reveals her admiration at his bravery and compassion, saying he was lucky the arrow didn't pierce his heart. He puts his hands over hers and says, "I'm not so sure it didn't." As they look into each others' eyes and see their mutual feelings, they kiss. They don't notice Quasimodo hiding his weeping face while his heart breaks.

    Immediately afterward, Djali warns them about Frollo, whose carriage just arrived in front of the cathedral. Quasi tells them the way to go to avoid Frollo. Esmeralda tells him to be careful, and asks him to promise not to let anything happen to Phoebus. He promises, in spite of his feelings. He hides Phoebus (who fell asleep from exhaustion) under the table when they leave, finishing up just as Frollo walks in. Frollo acts relatively cheerful and brings a large cluster of grapes with him as a treat, to hide his intentions. As Quasi gets the table ready, Frollo observes that he seems nervous, asking if anything's wrong. When Quasi denies this, Frollo responds, "Oh but there is. I know there is." As they eat, he accuses Quasimodo of hiding something. Phoebus nearly gives himself away as he wakes up again, but Quasi covers it up by coughing (and giving Phoebus a swift kick in the face).

    Frollo notices the carving Quasimodo made of Esmeralda, and tells him he recognizes her. Here he makes his intentions for coming clear; he angrily accuses Quasi of helping her escape, slamming the figure down on the table. He blames him for the fires ravaging Paris. Quasimodo simply says quietly, "She was kind to me, Master." Frollo destroys the wooden models of Notre Dame Cathedral and the houses in a fit of rage, crying, "YOU IDIOT! That wasn't kindness; it was cunning! She's a Gypsy! Gypsies aren't capable of real love! Think, boy! Think of your mother!" By this point he was grasping a terrified Quasimodo, holding his face next to his by his shirt collar. But Frollo quickly checks himself and regains his composure. Saying he doesn't blame Quasi for falling for her enchantments, he tells him not to worry since she'll soon be gone. As he says this, he draws a long dagger from his sleeve and skewers the carving of Esmeralda, burning it over a nearby candle. As he leaves, he tells Quasi that he's found the Court of Miracles, and that he'll attack it at dawn. He descends the stairs with a smile unseen by Quasimodo.

    Phoebus stands up, having heard the conversation, and says he's going to warn Esmeralda (though he doesn't know where to find her). Seeing that Quasi isn't moving, he asks him if he's coming too. He declines. Phoebus asks, "I thought you were Esmeralda's friend?" He replies by saying he can't disobey Frollo again. He retorts, "She stood up for you! You have a funny way of showing gratitude..." He leaves, despite having an injured shoulder.

    Quasimodo turns and sees the gargoyles giving him a disappointed and questioning look. He responds, "What? What am I supposed to do? Go out there and rescue 'the girl' from the jaws of death, then the whole town will cheer like I'm some kind of a hero!? She already has her 'knight in shining armor,' and it's not me! [He sighs] Frollo was right. Frollo was right about everything. And I'm tired of being something I'm not."

    When Quasi says this, he looks down at the palm of his hand that Esmeralda had earlier proclaimed was free of "monster lines." He also looks down at her smoldering carving. He slowly pulls out the woven pendant she gave him, and it is evident that his friendship and care for her has won over his doubt and heartache. Laverne gives him his cloak, and he leaves, saying, "I must be out of my mind."

    Quasi intercepts Phoebus at the cathedral entrance (having climbed down the outside again). Glad that he changed his mind, Phoebus asks him if he knows where to find her. He holds out the pendant and tells Phoebus what Esmeralda said when she gave it to him. As Phoebus attempts to decipher it, Quasi realizes that it's a map. Phoebus disagrees and they argue, but he concedes--saying that if they are going to find her, they'll have to work together. Quasi agrees enthusiastically.

    They reach a graveyard, and find a tomb with a cross matching the one on the pendant. Phoebus checks for writing and clues, but Quasi simply pushes off the heavy stone covering--revealing stairs. It leads to the old catacombs of Paris, filled with skeletons and sewage. They don't notice several Gypsies disguised as skeletons watching them. They are soon ambushed by Clopin and about 20 Gypsies guarding the way. They tie and gag them, accusing them to be spies (understandable given their connections to Frollo, and few knew of Phoebus' betrayal). They arrive at the Court of Miracles, where they are nearly hanged. Fortunately, Esmeralda was able to stop that from happening, vouching for them.

    Phoebus, being freed, delivers the warning that Frollo would attack at dawn. Everyone starts to evacuate. Esmeralda hugs Phoebus, saying they're all grateful. He smiles, but notices Quasimodo standing to the side awkwardly. He brings him forward, saying, "Without his help, I would never have found my way here."

    "Nor would I," announced Frollo, standing at the entrance with dozens of soldiers running in. They surround and capture the fleeing Gypsies. Frollo callously tells Quasi that he always knew he would be of use to him someday. He tells Esmeralda that Quasi led them right to her; she calls him a liar. He's amused to see Phoebus still alive, saying, "Another 'miracle' no doubt. I shall remedy that." He announces a bonfire to take place the next day, implying Esmeralda's execution, and orders his men to lock them up. Quasimodo gets on his knees before Frollo and begs for him to stop, but it is all in vain.

    The next evening, Esmeralda is tied to a stake on the wooden platform in front of the Cathedral of Notre Dame; soldiers place large bundles of sticks by her feet. Phoebus and the Gypsies are forced to watch, being confined to thick metal cages. Frollo reads from a parchment, declaring Esmeralda's crime to be that of witchcraft, and that death is her punishment. A large crowd of Parisians protest, declaring her innocence, but they are held back by soldiers. The Archdeacon too is prevented from interfering.

    Claude Frollo approaches Esmeralda under the guise of seeking a confession. However, he says to her quietly, "Even now it is not too late. I can save you from the flames of this world and the next. Choose me, or the fire." She answers by spitting in his face, glaring at him with hatred and disgust.

    Meanwhile, Quasimodo stands trapped on the cathedral balcony, tied up with heavy chains between two pillars. The gargoyles feebly attempt to break one of the chains, but Quasi only hangs limply; he'd already tried to break them to no avail. Frollo had already won in his mind. When the gargoyles try to talk him out of this mindset, he curtly tells them to leave. With sadness, they leave one by one, reverting back into inanimate stone. As they go, they say (Hugo, Victor, and Laverne respectively), "Okay. Okay, Quasi. We'll leave you alone." "After all, we're only made out of stone." "We just thought maybe you were made of somethin' stronger..."

    However, as Frollo's judgment and sentencing echo up towards him, a fire lights within him. He looks over the balcony down to the scene below and sees Claude Frollo light the fuel himself. Indignant, Quasimodo pulls the chains taut with such force that the stone pillars crack; even the bells resonate--as if the cathedral itself were crying out at the injustice below. Esmeralda suffers from the smoke as Frollo looks on with an evil grin. Within several seconds, Quasimodo breaks the stone pillars to which he was tied.

    Freed from the chains, he grabs a nearby rope, lassos it to one of the overhanging gargoyles used for drainage, and rappels down the side of the cathedral. With a running start along the wall, he swings over the heads of the crowd and lands next to Esmeralda--who is unconscious due to smoke suffocation; the flames are but seconds away from reaching her. He breaks her ropes with his hands. As the guards move in to stop him, he rips the giant stake out with one arm and uses it to knock them off the platform with one swing. Taking the rope again, he holds Esmeralda over his shoulder as he swings back over the rest of the soldiers and climbs up the cathedral wall. The crowd is in a frenzy. When he makes it back up on the balcony, he holds Esmeralda above his head, yelling "Sanctuary" as loudly as his lungs can permit. He then takes her to a nearby room, lays her carefully on the bed, and runs back out to prepare to defend the cathedral.

    Intent on claiming his desire, Frollo orders his men to break down the doors of the cathedral. Quasi drops a large beam down on them to stop them, crushing Frollo's carriage. They take the beam and use it as a battering ram. Meanwhile, Phoebus found an opportunity to knock his guard out, taking his keys and freeing himself. He stands on his cage with a spear in hand, giving this rousing speech to the crowd: "Citizens of Paris! Frollo has persecuted our people, ransacked our city--and now, he has declared war on Notre Dame herself! Will we allow it?" The crowd shouts "No" in return, overpowering the soldiers holding them back. The Gypsies are freed, and a battle ensues before the doors of Notre Dame. Meanwhile, both Quasimodo and the gargoyles employ various methods to keep the soldiers from climbing the walls. Finally, in one last drastic effort, Quasimodo heats some metal (probably copper or lead) to its melting point and pours it into the drainage system. The molten metal spews out of the mouths of the gargoyles (not Victor, Hugo, and Laverne), and rains down upon the invaders. They run before the metal hits them, but Frollo managed to stay behind the molten "waterfall." He breaks the rest of the way through the doors.

    The Archdeacon confronts Frollo, asking, "Have you gone mad?!" But Frollo throws him down the stairs and goes to the stairway leading to the bell-towers, locking the door behind him. Quasimodo enters Esmeralda's room in celebration, but his cheer ends abruptly when he sees she isn't moving. He tries to get her to drink some water, but it only spills out of her mouth. Realizing what has happened, he holds her in his arms, weeping bitterly.

    Frollo enters the room quietly, hiding his dagger behind his back. He puts his hand on Quasi's hunched back. Though he didn't look up, he knew who it was, simply whispering, "You killed her." Frollo claims he was only doing his duty, expressing his hope that he can forgive him. Quasimodo says nothing. Frollo then acknowledges that Quasimodo has had a hard life, but that the time to end his suffering had come. Sensing something wrong, Quasi looks up and sees the shadow of Claude Frollo holding the dagger above his head. He turns in time to grab Frollo's arm before it can reach him. He hesitates for a few seconds, but then he throws Frollo against the wall, taking the dagger from him. He approaches him while holding the dagger, shaking with anger. Frollo attempts to calm him down, asking him to listen, but Quasimodo yells, "No, you listen! All my life you have told me that the world is a dark, cruel place--but now I see that the only thing dark and cruel about it is people like you!"

    A voice faintly calls out for Quasimodo. It's Esmeralda, who had not died, but was almost killed from the smoke; she only just regained consciousness. Determined to finish the job, Frollo draws his sword, but Quasimodo takes her in his arms and runs out the door as fast as he can move. Frollo pursues, and eventually finds them hanging onto a gargoyle under the guardrail. He strikes at them with his sword several times (nicking Quasi's arm at least once) as he swings among the gargoyles--with Esmeralda holding on to him for dear life. They're able to get back up onto the guardrail, and Quasi pushes Esmeralda to safety as Frollo nearly hits them again. With malicious intent, Frollo tells him, "I should have known you'd risk your life to save that Gypsy witch... just as your own mother died trying to save you." Shocked by this revelation, Quasimodo nearly falls when Frollo smothers him with his cape. However, he grabs the bottom of the railing in time, pulling Frollo down after him--but he doesn't let him go. As Frollo swings and grabs an adjacent gargoyle, all of the events of the past day (both physical and emotional) finally catch up with Quasimodo, and he loses consciousness.

    Fortunately, Esmeralda had regained enough strength to grab Quasi's hand before he let go; however, she wasn't strong enough to pull him up, and she was losing her grip. Frollo stands up on the gargoyle, laughing quietly but maniacally--and he lifts his sword above his head to kill Esmeralda. She looks on in horror, but she doesn't let Quasi go to save herself. Frollo smiles evilly and says, "And He shall smite the wicked, and plunge them into the fiery pit." As if in answer to his proclamation, the gargoyle begins to break beneath his feet. He grabs hold underneath it as he falls, and from his perspective it appears to come alive--it's eyes and mouth glowing with heat and roaring at him with fury. He screams in fear and anguish as the gargoyle breaks off completely, and he falls to his death into the fiery lake of molten metal--as if he were taken straight to hell itself.

    Unfortunately, Esmeralda loses her grip on Quasi, and she cries out as he falls. But with perfect timing, Phoebus (who had entered the cathedral unnoticed after the metal stopped pouring) reaches out from a lower floor and grabs him, pulling him in. Seeing this, Esmeralda runs to the stairwell. The fall and sudden stop had awoken Quasimodo, and seeing Phoebus, he gives him a big hug in gratitude. Esmeralda enters, and when she sees Quasi alive and well, she runs and embraces him tenderly. They turn to look at Phoebus. Quasimodo takes their hands and clasps them together. Phoebus and Esmeralda embrace each other and kiss--and Quasimodo smiles, being at peace with their love for each other.

    In the morning, Phoebus and Esmeralda exit the Cathedral of Notre Dame and are greeted by a cheering crowd. The two raise their hands together in triumph. But instead of going to them, Esmeralda goes back to the doorway of the cathedral and holds her hand out for Quasimodo. He takes it and hesitantly walks out into the light with her. With Frollo dead, his need for sanctuary--claimed by his loving mother so many years ago--is lifted. The people are uncertain how to react. Quasimodo looks worried that he might get rejected again.

    However, a child leaves her mother's side and approaches him. (It is one of the children who watched Clopin's puppet show at the beginning.) Though she's a little nervous (so is Quasi), she reaches for his neck to give him a hug; seeing what she's trying to do, he smiles and lowers himself to her reaching distance. Smiling too as she hugs him, she takes his hand and leads him to the rest of the people--who begin to warm up to him. Clopin shouts, "Three cheers for Quasimodo!" The crowd cheers, and they pick him up to go off and celebrate. Esmeralda and Phoebus (and Djali) watch him fondly. Clopin picks up the child and says (sings), mirroring his words at the beginning, " 'So here is a riddle to guess if you can,' sing the bells of Notre Dame. 'What makes a monster, and what makes a man?' Whatever their pitch, you can feel them bewitch you, the rich and the ritual knells of the bells of Notre Dame!"

    As the citizens of Paris carry him away on their shoulders, Quasimodo is at long last genuinely accepted among them--not as a sideshow and a monster, but as a friend and a man.

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