The kickass female protagonist from The Hunchback of Notre Dame is probably one of the best known examples of a fan favourite heroine that still isn’t part of the pantheon. Whilst not a princess by either marriage, intent of marriage of birth most of the arguments to include her come from her strong character and values which line up with most the official princesses. In Esmeralda’s case the fact her movie wasn’t a box-office hit already helps to explain her absence from the franchise. If we want to be a little more cynical we could also chalk up Esmeralda’s absence to perhaps being deemed less refined (as a street gypsy – more on that later) or more sultry (read: womanly) than the usual butter-wouldn’t-melt princess.
If her exclusion is based on the lack of box office profits, it’s a reason I can at least accept. If it’s because she’s a gypsy or more womanly … well the only defence I can give Disney is that her film occurred a while ago. We’re still a way away from the tough as nails Merida or the largely barefoot Rapunzel. Even Mulan in 1998 was given a crush. Let’s face it, a free spirited underdog fighting Esmeralda just wouldn’t have fit in with the aesthetic. If she was created today there would be few reasons not to include her, unless Disney wanted to get picky about titles or royalty.
As a whole, I think Esmeralda’s on par with the realistic and interesting Disney heroines of the period. Like Belle, Pocahontas or Kida she’s talented, not simply prancing around in a ballgown. Her personal crisis in the film is over her beliefs and what she stands up for – Phoebus and Frollo are the ones tripping around over her. It’s perhaps a strong suit of the film that when I watch it I always wind up more fixated with Quasimodo’s story, which is nothing if not fitting. But Esmeralda is a strong addition to the cast and I would argue that aside from Quasi she’s the most heroic of any of the supporting cast.
If we’re picking Disney Princesses on qualities, personalities etc, Esmeralda is more than worthy of a place in the court. Also, call me a fan of Disney dresses, but Esmeralda’s is one of my favourites. What a great character – princess or not, she’s a hell of a heroine.
(photo credit: howareyounotdead.com)