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“See the finest girl in France Make an entrance to entrance Dance la Esmeralda....Dance!”
―Clopin introducing Esmeralda
Esmeralda is the deuteragonist of Disney's 1996 animated feature film The Hunchback of Notre Dame. She is a young woman belonging to a marginalized group referred to as "gypsies." Esmeralda is an outspoken humanitarian, which drives her to protect the deformed bell-ringer, Quasimodo, from his oppressors—namely, Claude Frollo. This act of mercy, coupled with her beauty and cultural background, makes Esmeralda the main target of Frollo's wrath.
Esmeralda is a Romani woman residing underneath Paris, in the hidden catacombs known as the Court of Miracles. She is a member of the Romani culture, led by Clopin, and works as an entertainment performer, or more specifically, a dancer, both on the streets and during more professional events, such as the Festival of Fools. She is regularly accompanied by her goat, Djali, who acts as her pet, confidante, and assistant during her performances.
“You saw what he did out there. Letting the crowd torture that poor boy? I thought if just one person could stand up to him then...”
Esmeralda is verbally powerful, street-wise, cunning, and morale. She was the sole individual in all of France to downright rebel against Frollo during his reign and was openly against the judge's accusations of claiming the Romani culture to be a gang of thieves who engage in unholy practices of witchcraft. Due to this, she was often the target of arrest, but as mentioned above, Esmeralda is a cunning, independent character, who was shown to have the talent of outsmarting and evading Frollo's grasp time and time again, despite the number of odds against her. This would only erupt Frollo's tyranny further, but Esmeralda was not one to sacrifice her freedom for the sake of Frollo's suppression. Even when she is finally captured, and seconds away from death, she remained fiercely defiant, knowing her worth, and refusing to degrade herself by surrendering to Frollo.
Aside from this fiery nature, Esmeralda is ultimately a kind, loving selfless soul underneath. She was the only human character in the film, for the first half, to ever show kindness towards the deformed and naïve Quasimodo. While Frollo and the rest of France viewed him as a monster, based on his appearance, Esmeralda felt otherwise, in spite of the initial shock in response to his appearance. Instead, she treated him as an average person, though with even more patience and kindness, due to his innocent, gentle, and selfless nature—so much so, that her actions can be mistaken for romantic affections. However, this is not the case, as Esmeralda's love towards Quasimodo was strictly platonic, proving that forms of deep love and care don't always have to relate to romance. In reality, her love is Phoebus. The reason she chose Pheobus over Quasimodo was not that Quasimodo was deformed, but because Quasimodo hadn't fully matured, and his blind adulation for her may have led to him becoming overly reliant on her.
Though she seems to be a sultry and free-spirited person, the song "God Help the Outcasts" shows that Esmeralda cares about God and religion, as she turns to God in prayer at one point, praying for justice for the less fortunate and downtrodden. However, Esmeralda is not a fanatic, as Frollo is—For one, she does not get into a personal crisis by her falling in love with Phoebus, and for another, lyrics during the song include "I don't know if you can hear me, or if you're even there", referring to God, showing that she is not totally convinced of his existence, but still hopes to be heard, nevertheless.
Esmeralda has medium brown skin, raven-black hair, an hourglass figure, and striking emerald green eyes (in fact, a possible reason is that "Esmeralda" is the Spanish and Portuguese word for "emerald"). She is designed to be very attractive, as Phoebus and Frollo are both immediately attracted to her. Her hair is tied back with a pink ribbon. Esmeralda wears a white top with a teal and gold bodice, along with a purple sarong and white petticoat. She is often barefoot in the first film (but wears black flat shoes in the sequel), and wears a golden hoop earring on her left ear, a golden bangle on her left wrist, and matching bracelet and anklet on both her right hand and right ankle.
Esmeralda is first seen dancing in the streets for coins. Two guards come along and harass her, but with the help of Djali and Phoebus, Esmeralda escapes. She is then seen dancing at the festival of fools and catches the attention of everyone, even Frollo. When the time comes to crown the king of fools, she pulls Quasimodo onto the stage, thinking his face to be a mask. And she is understandably surprised to find out it is really his face. When the crowd is torturing Quasimodo, she solely comes to his aid and accuses Frollo of cruelty for not having it stopped sooner and for not providing justice to those who most need it. Frollo orders her arrest for her defiance, but she uses magic to disappear by blowing her nose, after which Frollo accuses her of witchcraft.
Esmeralda expertly dodges and outwits the soldiers sent after her and ultimately disappears from view by flipping onto a tent, after sufficiently humiliating Frollo and the sentries. Esmeralda is next seen following Quasimodo into the cathedral disguised together with Djali as an old man but is followed by Phoebus. She is initially aggressive towards him, up to the point of attacking him with a candlestick, but engages in conversation when he puts away his sword and introduces himself. When Frollo arrives and orders Phoebus to arrest her, Phoebus refuses, saying that Esmeralda has claimed sanctuary. Frollo and the soldiers are ordered out of the church by the Archdeacon. Frollo stays behind long enough to warn her that she can only stay inside for so long and hints at a physical attraction to the gypsy girl through sexual assault, eliciting repulsion from her. Frollo leaves and stations guards at every door, forcing Esmeralda to rethink her exit strategy. The Archdeacon counsels her against antagonizing Frollo further and at his suggestion, she offers a heartfelt prayer to God to help her and her people.
Enchanted by her song, Quasimodo watches from afar and stumbles on some candles, alerting her of his presence after a parishioner who mistaken him causing trouble shouted at him. He escapes away to the belltower and she chases him, attempting to apologize to him for bringing him onto the stage while the parishioner is then stopped by the Archdeacon when he attempted to stop her and Djali from following him. She then stumbles upon Quasimodo's workshop and is instantly impressed by his talent. He begins to understand that she means him no harm and decides to show her around the bell tower. Esmeralda expresses her surprise that such a cruel man like Frollo raised such a wonderful boy. Quasimodo says that Frollo took him in even though he is a monster. Esmeralda cites Frollo's lie that gypsies are evil and says Frollo may be wrong about them both. Quasimodo offers to let her live with him in the bell tower where she can have sanctuary but she expresses her desire to escape the church as "gypsies don't do well in stone walls". Quasimodo carries her and Djali down the tower to the streets where she can escape. Esmeralda asks him to come with her, but he knows he would not be welcome and his place remains in the tower. Esmeralda promises they will meet again and gives him a map of the town which will lead him to the Court of Miracles where all the gypsies are hiding. Shortly afterward, Frollo initiates a manhunt for her and throws the town into chaos.
She observes from a distance and sees him burn down an innocent family's house. Phoebus saves them in time and is arrested. She uses her sash to slingshot a rock at Frollo's horse, creating a distraction that allows Phoebus to escape by horseback but Frollo has his guards shoot Phoebus with a single arrow and Phoebus' wound nearly kills him. Esmeralda's quick thinking and medical attention save Phoebus' life, and she brings him to Quasimodo whom she knows will help her. She tends to his wounds and passionately kisses Phoebus, unwittingly breaking Quasimodo's heart as he was convinced she loved him. She escapes the bell tower when she hears Frollo approaching and leaves Phoebus in Quasimodo's care. Frollo bluffs that he knows where the Court of Miracles is and that he will attack it in the morning with one thousand men. Quasimodo and Phoebus quickly reach the Court of Miracles using the map Esmerelda gave them to try and warn them, only for Frollo to suddenly appear, having used Quasimodo to lead him there. Esmerelda is captured and sentenced to burn at the stake for the crime of witchcraft. As Frollo holds the torch to set the pyre ablaze, he offers her one last chance to be with him or be burned. She spits in his face in utter disgust and he attempts to burn her alive.
She is saved in time by Quasimodo but ends up nearly suffocated and falls unconscious. Quasimodo cries over her seemingly dead body before fighting off Frollo. Esmeralda manages to awake, alive, and is rescued by Quasimodo from Frollo's attacks. They hide holding onto the balcony of the tall bell-tower but Frollo sees them and attacks them with his sword. Eventually, Esmeralda has knocked away and Frollo tries to get Quasimodo off his feet but is pulled down with Quasimodo. Esmeralda holds Quasi for dear life as Frollo climbs up on a gargoyle and prepares to hit them with his sword screaming "He shall smite the wicked and plunge them into a fiery pit!" However, the gargoyle starts to break off the cathedral causing Frollo to fall to his fiery death. The gargoyle seemed to briefly come to life, with glowing eyes, suggesting either that Frollo is now quite insane or that a divine intervention occurred: The judge had unwittingly spoken his own doom, a higher power deciding that Frollo, and not Esmeralda and Quasimodo, was "the wicked" that deserved to be plunged into the pit of fire. Esmeralda accidentally releases her grip on Quasimodo, but Phoebus, who found a way into the cathedral after Quasimodo and the gargoyles pour molten lead that prevented Frollo's soldiers from breaking in, saves him.
Phoebus, realizing Quasimodo's feelings for Esmeralda, stands aside so Quasimodo can be with her. However, Quasimodo realizes their feelings for each other and interlocks their hands, having accepted their love and the two kiss. As Phoebus and Esmeralda emerge safely from the church to cheers to triumph from the crowd, Esmeralda extends her hand to Quasimodo to join them outside. As Quasimodo joins her, he is finally accepted into the town population.
Esmeralda has married Phoebus and they have a son named Zephyr. She also wears black shoes instead of being barefoot. Her role in the film is much smaller than her part in the original, with the story now focusing on Quasimodo finding a love interest in Madellaine.
Whenever Quasimodo had problems in the film, he usually turned to Esmeralda for advice. At one point, a very valuable bell was stolen by the new antagonist, Sarousch. Though distressed about the situation, Esmeralda joined Phoebus in watching a newly revealed (albeit misunderstood) villain named Madellaine and any other prisoners. When Madellaine revealed Sarousch was taking the bell to an underground escape passage, Esmeralda convinced a suspicious Phoebus to give her the benefit of the doubt. As such, Phoebus pursued Sarousch, and Esmeralda followed.
After Sarousch was arrested and their son rescued, Esmeralda returned to the festival with everyone else. She and Phoebus were shown to have reconciled as they are seen smiling at each other before sharing a kiss. Esmeralda then smiled as she witnessed the new union of Quasimodo and Madellaine.
Esmeralda appears in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, in her homeworld La Cité des Cloches, with a role similar to that of the film.
When Riku arrives in the city, Esmeralda runs past him after she escapes from Frollo and Phoebus through a magic trick. Phoebus approaches Riku and questions if he saw a "gypsy" (a degrading term for Romani people) pass him, to which he denies.
Once Phoebus was gone, a grateful Esmeralda introduces herself to Riku and expresses her gratitude to him. Later, she helps Quasimodo escape into Notre Dame after things went wrong during the Festival of Fools. However, Claude Frollo, the Minister of Justice of Paris and Quasimodo's guardian who harbors a deep hatred for Romani people, prevents her from leaving by posting guards at the entrances as vengeance for saving the hunchback. Inside, Quasimodo offers her a place at the sanctuary.
However, Esmeralda declined as she didn't want to be confined between stone walls and gave Quasimodo a necklace that would guide him to the Court of Miracles, before leaving to return to the streets. Later, Quasimodo, Phoebus, and Sora meet her at the Court of Miracles, who come and warn her that Frollo is coming. Before they have time to escape, he comes with an army of Nightmares and seizes Esmeralda, who is later condemned to be burnt at a stake. Quasimodo manages to rescue her and following the battle that ultimately led to Frollo's death, Quasimodo blesses her relationship with Phoebus.
In the German musical adaptation of the film, Esmeralda is portrayed as a young dancer who is a newcomer to the Court of Miracles. She gets very frustrated with inequality. She has difficulty keeping her thoughts to herself which is why she had to move to Paris and why she gets in trouble with Frollo. Not as sassy as she is in the film, she comes off as sweeter and naive, which is more akin to the original novel. in the musical, is not her who brings Phoebus to Quasimodo, with that part being given to the Archdeacon. The musical features a new scene between Esmeralda's capture and execution, in which she sings "Someday" as a way t express her dying wish of the world becoming a better place. As in the original novel, Esmeralda dies, though she is killed by smoke inhalation instead of by Frollo. Her death causes Quasimodo to kill Frollo, and, in the end, carries her corpse and leaves Notre Dame.
In the North American musical, Esmeralda's role is similar to the original musical. However, one of the main differences is that she does not go to Notre Dame to hide from Frollo, since Frollo in this version is the archdeacon of the cathedral, instead simply following Quasimodo out of curiosity. It is during this visit in which Esmeralda meets Frollo, with Frollo ultimately agreeing to let Esmeralda stay inside the cathedral for a time. Another notable difference is that she and Phoebus share their first kiss inside a tavern in which gypsies hide, unknowingly being watched by a disgusted Frollo. This version of the musical also has Esmeralda bringing an injured Phoebus as in the original film, and giving him during that moment the amulet with the map. It also alters the "Someday" number, with Frollo offering to save Phoebus instead of her if she agrees to be his mistress, and sings "Someday" as a duet with Phoebus instead of a solo. While she dies in the end as in the original musical, her fate also slightly differs as, after her and Frollo's death, Quasimodo holds her corpse until starving to death.
In the novel, Esmeralda was only about sixteen years old when the events of the story take place.
While she was a born Romani in the Disney version, she is the daughter of a French prostitute in the novel whose real birth name was Agnes and was stolen as a baby by Romani people, who renamed her Esmeralda.
Esmeralda is madly in love with the handsome Captain Phoebus, who pretends to love her and even flirts with her, but he ultimately rejects her for Fleur-de-Lys, a wealthy noblewoman.
While Quasimodo does save her life at one point, during the actual climax of the novel, she is killed by Frollo when she rejects his lustful attentions.
She is described as being an innocent, timid, naive, sweet, beautiful, free-spirited Romani girl, not the confident, sultry, outspoken Esmeralda we see in the film.
Esmeralda has emerald green eyes, the reason presumably being because "esmeralda" is the Spanish and Portuguese word for "emerald".
During the Middle Ages, green eyes were often considered to be a sign of either magic, evil, and/or witchcraft (which explains why many of Disney's earlier villains had green eyes, and therefore such was originally restricted to villains). This explains why she was designed to look malicious-looking despite being the heroine and why Frollo (who is outright evil) actually sees her as being evil despite her true, good nature.
In the novel, Esmeralda had black eyes, not green, and was named after the emerald amulet around her neck.
In the original story, Frollo successfully killed Esmeralda by hanging her. In the film, Quasimodo prevents her tragic death by rescuing her. This also occurred in an episode of the PBS series "Wishbone" where titular Jack Russell terrier is in the role of Quasimodo. He rescues her from being hanged to death by Frollo.
In the novel, Esmeralda was 16 years old. In the film, she appears to be older and more mature. She's believed to be in her early twenties.
The white dress that Esmeralda wears at the end of the movie is actually an underdress, which means that Esmeralda's white dress is her underwear (during the 16th century, prisoners were denied clothing, but were permitted to keep their undergarments to protect their modesty).
Originally, following the song "Court of Miracles", after she thwarts Clopin's attempted execution of Quasimodo and Phoebus by hanging, there was actually going to be a scene showing Esmeralda's wedding to Phoebus only for the said wedding to be interrupted by the sudden appearance of Frollo and his minions.
Esmeralda's backstory appears to be very inconsistent. In the book Esmeralda's Lucky Charm, it's stated that Esmeralda and Djali moved to Paris when she was an adult and met Clopin as an adult, but in Once Upon a Princess: Volume One, it's implied that Esmeralda was an orphan, and that she was born in Paris to Romani circus performers only to have her parents murdered by soldiers (presumably working for Frollo) and subsequently adopted by Clopin, and Djali was given to her as a birthday present.
In the movie, Esmeralda is the only singing character to be voiced by two voice actors or actresses, with her speaking voice by Demi Moore and singing by Heidi Mollenhauer.
In real life, the word "Gypsy" supposedly meant that the Roma (that race's real name) is actually from Egypt, and nowadays considered by them as being an insult, and that the Romani actually originated from the Indian states of Rajasthan, Haryana, and Punjab in India (which may explain the presence of a bindi on Esmeralda's forehead at the Feast of Fools), and why her goat is given the name Djali.
Esmeralda wore a red dress for her dance at the Feast of Fools, but in reality, the color red is considered bad luck to the Romani people. This might have been intended as Esmeralda had a conflict with Frollo during the film. Also, said red dress had a purple sash around the waist and purple sleeves, referencing the Whore of Babylon.
Esmeralda's decision to marry Phoebus at the end of her film was likely the result of the way both Quasimodo and Frollo treated her throughout the movie, according to the Madonna-Whore complex: Frollo constantly viewed Esmeralda as an evil seductress, causing him to want her as his own and threatens to kill her if she refuses, while Quasimodo instead views her as a pure, angelic being, seeing her as being the only kind and caring. However, both portrayals are considered insulting to women, and Phoebus, seeing her as being feisty but good-natured, was the only male character that saw Esmeralda like a normal woman, therefore becoming her husband.
Animator Andreas Deja once noted having an interest in animating Esmeralda during the development of The Hunchback of Notre Dame but moved onto another assignment as the supervising animator had already been cast.