5 Reasons Why Esmeralda is an Underrated Disney Heroine

By Alex Wolf on June 22, 2016





If you haven’t re-watched Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame since you were a kid, I highly recommend you do now. There are a great many themes and messages that completely went over your head as a kid, including the character of Esmeralda. The main female character of the film, Esmeralda has been disappointingly absent from everyone’s list of favorite Disney female characters. This is a crime, in my opinion, so here are five reasons why Esmeralda is an underrated Disney character.


1. She’s Romani Jewish

Sporting an olive skin tone and wavy black hair, Esmeralda’s struggles as a Romani Jewish person, or “gypsy” are arguably at the center of this movie. Historically, gypsies were a people originating in Greece and spreading to almost all corners of Europe. They faced persecution everywhere they went, not only because of their Jewish beliefs, but because they were associated with thievery and dark magic. In Notre Dame, Esmeralda faces discrimination from the people of Paris for her race, since gypsies are seen as the lowest people in society. Considering Romani Jewish characters have been almost nonexistent in mainstream media, Notre Dame should be considered ahead of it’s time for including a prominent female character of that culture.



2. She’s fearless

In addition to being a skilled acrobat and dancer, Esmeralda is not afraid to stand up for herself, and doesn’t take shit from anyone. When she is confronted by Phoebus, a charismatic soldier who has been assigned to capture her, she immediately goes toe to toe with him in combat, and is quick to throw insults as well. She brazenly shouts that Frollo has crowned the wrong fool when he tries to have her arrested at the festival of fools in the center of Paris. After years of fending for herself and enduring constant discrimination and suspicion because of her heritage, Esmeralda is not afraid of anything, even Quasimodo’s deformed appearance. While many Disney female characters can fight, I feel like Esmeralda’s fierceness is often overlooked, and little girls need to role model who isn’t afraid to stand up for what is right.


3. She’s kind and compassionate


When the hunchback Quasimodo is mocked and beaten at the hands of a jeering Parisian crowd, Esmeralda is the one to step forward and free him. Knowing the hardships she and her people face, she braves the threat of arrest and persecution to rescue him, taunting Frollo with the line, “you mistreat this poor boy the same way you mistreat my people!” When she becomes trapped by guards in the Cathedral, Esmeralda prays not for herself but for people that need it more, singing, “I ask for nothing, I can get by, but I know so many less lucky than I.” When she confronts Quasimodo in the bell tower, she comforts and reassures him that he is not a monster, nor are all gypsies evil, both things he had been led to believe by Frollo. During the final scene, she is the one who brings Quasimodo into the light when the people finally accept him into society. Thought we see kindness and compassion from many Disney female characters, it stands out to see that Esmeralda can be loving and gentle but also strong-willed and fierce.


4. She spits on her would-be rapist


The main villain Frollo is sexually obsessed with Esmeralda, even going so far as to blame his urges on her seducing him with witchcraft. His villain song “hellfire” is basically him singing about his desire to rape her (put that on the list of things you didn’t realize as a kid). Never once does Esmeralda try to take advantage of it. She calls him out on it twice in the movie, once when he claims to be imagining a rope around her neck, she brazenly shoots back, “I know what you were imagining.” In the climax of the movie, when Frollo is about to burn her at the stake for being a witch, he offers her her life if she will marry him. Esmeralda responds to his offer by spitting in his face. What makes Esmeralda amazing in this movie is that, although she is depicted as beautiful and with lots of curves, never once does it seem like she’s “leading” Frollo on. Instead, she is very much the victim of Frollo’s obsession, one that he claims is entirely her fault. This makes Notre Dame a relevant commentary on rape culture, and makes Frollo an altogether terrifying Disney villain.


5. She has a pet goat named Djali


Who doesn’t love an animal friend? Not only is Djali Esmeralda’s friend and performance assistant, he provides hilarious comedic relief, and is faithful to the end, even when Esmeralda almost gets burned at the stake. He’s also arguably the only character who realizes just how awesome Esmeralda is.


Now that I’ve listed these reasons, I have just one question: how is Esmeralda not an official Disney princess yet? She’s an amazing character who all too often gets left in the shadows of other Disney heroines (though all of them are pretty great!) Again, if you haven’t seen The Hunchback of Notre Dame, I highly recommend you watch it. It’s available on Netflix to stream right now. Go and see for yourself how awesome and underrated Esmeralda is.


Sources: Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romaniote_Jews#History) and Disney Wiki (http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/The_Hunchback_of_Notre_Dame)



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