Follow TV Tropes

This is based on opinion. Please don't list it on a work's trope example list.


Tear Jerker / The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Go To

As a Moments subpage, all spoilers are unmarked as per policy. You Have Been Warned.

Live-action films

  • Quasimodo's flogging in the 1997 version is extremely upsetting, as unlike the other versions, he doesn't deserve it. While in the other movies he genuinely attempted to kidnap Esmeralda, the only reason he was present at the scene here is because he saw Frollo pay two men to kidnap her, and was fighting them off - the soldiers happened to appear just as he had sent them packing and assumed that he was the culprit, completely ignoring Gringoire when he told them that Quasimodo wasn't at fault.
    • Quasimodo's death scene at the end is heartbreaking; having been accidentally mortally wounded by Frollo, he is saved from falling off the tower by Esmerelda and Gringoire, who then lay him to rest and set his beloved bells in motion to "sing for him". (Slightly undermined if you are aware that Quasimodo's final line, "Why was I not made of stone like thee?" is pinched from the 1939 film.)

The Disney film
Don't worry, she's not really dead... in this version.

  • The sheer intensity of "The Bells of Notre Dame", informing us of Quasi's backstory:
    "You can lie to yourself and your minions
    You can claim that you haven't a qualm
    But you never can run from
    Nor hide what you've done from the eyes
    The very eyes of Notre Dame!"
    • Quasimodo's mother banging at the door of the cathedral and begging for sanctuary. The Archdeacon does not make it to the door in time to save her, only witnessing Frollo kicking her in the face, causing her to fall and hit her head on the steps of Notre Dame, presumably killing her instantly, before immediately deciding to drown the infant Quasimodo!
    • The fact that she refused to hand over her baby, probably knowing that he would be killed or abandoned for being 'deformed', and fled for both their lives. She made it as far as the steps of Notre Dame, only to be senselessly killed by Frollo on the steps.
    • Frollo attempts to make excuses for the unjust killing, so the Archdeacon angrily demands that Frollo care for the child, lest he spend eternity in Hell. Frollo agrees... but only because he believes Quasimodo may be of use to him one day...
  • When Quasimodo is tormented by the townspeople during the Feast Of Fools, which is made worse because just moments before they were singing his praises.
    • Also: Quasimodo flinching in fear as Esmeralda approaches him while he's tied up, and her reassuring him to "Don't be afraid".
      • It gets worse when you realize that Esmeralda's compassionate look isn't born out of the fact she feels sorry for Quasimodo and because she's a nice person. The look on her face is that of somebody who knows what it's like to be outcast (as her ballad "God Help the Outcasts" later on reveals). Esmeralda has been established as a resilient, intelligent and kind person... and most likely has endured being shunned/outcast/humiliated as Quasimodo just endured.
      • Esmeralda's look of shock when she sees how the crowd has turned on him. It's a mixture of disgust at the display, and guilt over how she brought it on Quasi.
      • The shot of Esmeralda from Quasi's POV, bathed in light, with an expression of pure compassion on her face.
      • From Esmerelda's perspective, she was the one who pulled him onto the stage, thinking he was part of the show. Like everyone else, she recoiled in shock when she realized his "mask" was actually his face, then vanishes from view when the crowd seemingly celebrates him, only to turn on him just as fast. Esmerelda knows it's partially her fault that he was put in this position, and immediately does whatever she can to make things right.
      • Quasi being tortured by the crowd. He begs his master to help and Frollo just looks away and does nothing! He gives the "Haven't I warned you about the cruel world? Look what it does to you now! I'm ashamed of you!" look.
      • Worse still, Phoebus is so appalled that he insists he be granted permission to stop this spectacle, and Frollo snidely refuses on the grounds that "A lesson needs to be learned here".
    • Advertisement:
    • ALSO: Quasi limping back to Notre Dame in the pouring rain, and then shutting the massive door behind him with... Oh God, that heartbreaking look on his face...
      • If you listen closely, you can hear the crowd saying things such as "Oh my goodness, he's hideous!". Poor Quasi.
      • The fact that only minutes prior, he was literally crying tears of joy at being accepted.
      • Before that, Frollo gave an angry look at poor Quasi, who realized that Frollo was right about the cruel and wicked world. He told his master that he would never disobey him again.
  • Every song Quasimodo sings is, if not tragic (my God, "Heaven's Light (Reprise)"), unbelievably beautiful and uplifting
    I knew I'd never know that warm and loving glow
    Though I might wish with all my might
    No face as hideous as my face
    Was ever meant for Heaven's Light...
    • "God Help The Outcasts". It might be the most beautiful Disney song ever created.
      • It may bring more happy tears than sad ones but at this point, Esmeralda was nearly attacked by two guards simply for trying to earn a living, shunned by the townspeople and she's hiding in the cathedral for her life (not to mention, Frollo's cruel taunt beforehand). What does she pray to the Virgin Mary for? Help for others and nothing else.
    "I ask for nothing/I can get by/But I know so many less lucky than I."
  • When Frollo holds baby Quasi over the well during 'Bells of Notre Dame', fully prepared to kill an infant. It's one of the most callous things a Disney villain has done - preparing to drown a baby simply for its deformity.
  • The fact that Frollo gave Quasi a name that means "half-formed" in and of itself. The guy is more than the epitome of Jerkass.
    • In the book it is pointed out that Frollo in fact named him for the old name of the Sunday after Easter Sunday/the Octave of Easter, Quasimodo Sunday, because that was when he found him abandoned in the Cathedral in the pew where babies were usually abandoned. That day, in turn, got the name because of the first words (Quasi modo- note that it is written separately) of the traditional lecture that day, 1Peter 2:2, which translate to "as if in [this] manner", with the full quote being "As newborn babes desire the rational milk without guile..."
  • When Quasi thinks Esmeralda is dead, the look on his face is just so heartbreakingly sad. And then he holds her in his arms and breaks down sobbing, while an offscreen children's chorus sings the melody of "Someday," just as they did at the moment when Esmeralda first showed him compassion at the pillory wheel.
  • The song at the end, with the line "What makes a monster and what makes a man?" because it sums up the theme of the film, and causes you to flash back through the events of the story and appreciate Quasi's journey.
  • At the beginning, Quasi is all excited about going to the festival, but the second he bumps into Frollo, all joy is gone and he is scared and trembling. Quasimodo has to be the woobiest of all Disney heroes.
  • During the opening of "Out There", Frollo curls his fist like he's threatening Quasimodo.
    • And in the intro to "Out There" when Frollo sings that Quasimodo is deformed and ugly and he is the only one who is looking out for Quasimodo, Quasimodo brokenly repeating these lines. It really hits home for someone who has been emotionally abused by a parent.
    • Heck, "Out There" itself is a really sad "I Want" song. It's all about Quasimodo's longing to be able to be normal and be amid people... for just one day. It really resonates for people who have been bullied, outcast or shunned for things they couldn't control.
      • Just to twist the knife, a sadder reprise of "Out There" wordlessly plays as Quasimodo returns to the cathedral in the rain. It's even more tragic as it's coupled with his devastated expression at experiencing human cruelty. The song is like hearing Quasimodo's broken heart vow to never leave Notre Dame again...
  • Quasi finding out that Esmeralda loves Phoebus instead of him.
    • Especially when he rips the ace of hearts in half...
      • According to commentary from the directors, even the music makes a sound like a tiny glass heart breaking.
    • Topped off with the heartbreaking reprise of "Heaven's Light".
  • Frollo revealing to Quasi that his mother had died to save his life from none other than himself. After years of believing that he had been abandoned, to learn this from the one man who was the closest thing he had to a parent up until now leaves Quasi in utter disbelief.
    • Then there's the poor boy's mother, who fought desperately to save herself and her son immediately after losing what might have been her husband to Frollo's clutches, forced to save herself so that her son might have a chance. She meets her end on the steps of Notre Dame, unable to save her son until the Archdeacon, the only one present to mourn her needless death intervenes.
      • And for twenty years, her son never knew the truth, never knew how much she unconditionally loved her baby.
  • "I ask for nothing; I can get by. But I know so many less lucky than I..." Even after everything Esmeralda goes through—sexual harassment, imprisonment, persecution for her race — she still uses her prayer to ask God to help others, not herself, saying she'll be fine. That single line shows just how selfless she really is.
  • Say what you will about it being an Award-Bait Song, but the intended version of Someday still exists on some special features, and is perhaps more heartrending than "God Help the Outcasts" in its plea for justice.
    • In fact that was the very reason the song was cut and replaced with "God Help the Outcasts", it was too emotional.
  • True, most of Hellfire is Frollo singing about how much he blames Esmeralda for tempting him and how if she won't submit to him she'll burn - he'll kill her - but after he throws her scarf on the fire, he murmurs "God have mercy on her," and his voice breaks as he whispers "God have mercy on me." He hates what's happening to him and knows it's wrong, but he can't see any way out. There's just enough of his real faith left for him to beg for one.
  • Of all things, A Guy Like You. It's cheesy, childish, and totally at odds with the tone of the film... but then you remember that the gargoyles are probably figments of Quasimodo's imagination. The entire sequence is not just Quasi convincing himself that Esmeralda returns his feelings, but an earnest attempt to have a little confidence — and a successful one. It makes it all the more painful to watch that belief in himself crumble.
    • One could argue that it is not a successful attempt at confidence at all. Certain lines by the gargoyles, such as Hugo mentioning he's "shaped like a croissant" or calling him a "surprise from every angle" can be seen as surprisingly harsh and mean-spirited remarks. With the interpretation that the gargoyles are his imagination, this can easily be seen as Quasimodo telling himself he's not really worthy of Esmerelda, which makes the following scene even more hard-hitting as his fear is seemingly realised.
  • The deleted number, "In a Place of Miracles" is this and heartwarming in equal measures. Towards the end, Esmeralda approaches Quasimodo — who has only moments ago found peace with her choosing Phoebus — and invites him to dance. As they happily begin to do so, Clopin watches them through a wine bottle, and we see Quasimodo as a tall, handsome, able-bodied young man. Eventually the dance ends, the song ends, Esmeralda returns to Phoebus's side while Quasimodo cordially bows her off, and the wine bottle goes up to show Quasimodo as we've always known him. It's a deeply bittersweet moment.
  • "What am I supposed to do? Go out there and rescue the girl from the, from the jaws of death and the whole town cheers like I'm some kind of a hero?! She already has her knight in shining armor and it's not me!" (Deep breath) Frollo was right. Frollo was right about everything. And I'm tired of trying to be something that I'm not."
  • For everyone who grew up with this movie and marveled at the splendor of Notre Dame, the entire film has become this on a meta-level as the real-life Notre Dame caught fire on April 15th, 2019; the blaze destroyed much of the original structure, meaning much of the iconic structure that had been Quasi's home and so much of what we saw in the film, including the cathedral's iconic spire, have been completely destroyed. While the bell towers and stained glass survived and the cathedral will certainly be rebuilt and restored, the destruction of such a beloved landmark that many a Disney fan grew fond of through this film is a hard reality to stomach.

Stage Play (Berlin and USA Productions)

  • Esmeralda's introductory song (in the German and La Jolla version) where she got thrown out of a city for protesting injustice. She calls herself a fool for continuing to right wrongs and paying the price.
  • "Someday" is included in the German version, sung by Esmeralda and Phoebus as she's escorted to the stake.
  • While chained to the cathedral and Forced to Watch Esmeralda's execution, Quasimodo tells the gargoyles to Get Out! in song form since they're "Made of Stone" and every time he takes their suggestions he gets in trouble. They finally agree with him and turn to stone.
    Antoine: But we thought you were made of something stronger.
    • The entirety of "Made of Stone," for that matter is a powerfully heartbreaking song in its own right. Quasimodo has reached his Despair Event Horizon and in his sorrow over his part in the upcoming demise of Esmeralda, his only true friend, he chooses to break off ties with his sanity and with the rest of humanity, choosing to live a life void of emotion and feeling as if he too were "Made of Stone".
    • The worst part is seeing the look of despair on the gargoyles' faces as Quasimodo gives into his despair. The gargoyles are figments of Quasimodo's imagination and it can be interpreted as the loving and caring side of Quasimodo heartbroken that all of his hopes are dashed.
  • Esmeralda gets Killed Off for Real, despite Quasimodo saving her from the stake, suffering from smoke inhalation. She thanks him for being a friend to her and falls unconscious.
    • Even worse, Esmeralda's last words make it very clear that she knows she isn't going to make it.
    Quasimodo: (with pure innocence in his voice) You can stay here forever!
    Esmeralda: (chuckles sadly) I don't think... forever... you were such a good friend, Quasimodo...
    • Quasi, not understanding, shakes her several times, saying her name, until it sinks in. Then he breaks down.
    • To drive the knife in further, Frollo appears, and is ecstatic that he and Quasi are free from the "spell of Esmeralda." Quasi, grief-stricken, attacks his former master and drops him from the Notre Dame steeples. While this is going on the gargoyles (or the Greek Chorus) echo Frollo's words "The wicked shall not go unpunished".
      • From the libretto: the man and woman who begin the echo are the ghosts of Jehan Frollo and a Romani woman... who is just referred to as "Gypsy Woman" in the lyric booklet, but the actual score and libretto refer to her as Florika, aka Quasimodo's mother.
      • It gets worse if you choose to look at Quasimodo's asking Frollo "Loved? What do you know of love? Who have you ever loved?" as one last desperate attempt to hear that somebody, anybody loves him, namely from the only person he's known and the only person he loves left in his life. Frollo's denial of this serves as the straw that breaks the camel's back for Quasimodo.
      • As Quasi's about to throw Frollo off the cathedral, we get this, which is both this and Nightmare Fuel:
    Frollo: You don't want to hurt me!
    Chorus: Yes you do.
    • In the USA production, Phoebus tries to pick up her body, but his injuries prevent him from doing so. He responds by sobbing into her stomach.
    • After this, Quasimodo does a Dark Reprise of "Out There" about how the world is full of cruelty, but also sparks of light, like Esmeralda. He and Phoebus exit with Esmeralda's body, and Clopin offers another Dark Reprise of "Bells of Notre Dame."
    • Shortly after, Quasimodo sets Esmeralda's body down in front of the crowd. He's about to leave, believing he'll never be accepted now. Then, in a mix of Tear Jerker and Heartwarming, as a reprise of "Someday" begins, a girl steps forward, paints deformities on her face, and twists her body to show that she is like him and the rest of the crowd follows suit, accepting Quasimodo.
    • Clopin, formerly the bright-eyed narrator, Well-Intentioned Extremist and A Father to His Men, is completely broken in the end. In this case, he says "I wish I could offer you a moral/ A trinket to hold in your palm." His question of "what makes a monster and what makes a man?" has more moral ambiguity, given that Quasimodo actually did a monstrous (if satisfying) thing by killing Frollo instead of watching him fall to his death.
  • Phoebus's song in the USA production, Rest and Recreation. While it starts off fine, the interlude offers something different - Phoebus is still haunted by his "four years at the front", and briefly imagines all those who died at his side. The Mood Whiplash back to the merry tune afterwards doesn't help at all!
    Congregation: Summoned here to Paris, now I'm far away from battle / From clotting blood and rotting wounds of dead and dying men.
    Phoebus & Congregation: And whatever I do, I'll make sure this is true...
    Phoebus: I will never go back again!
  • In the USA production, the death of Frollo, of all people, is actually quite tragic, due to him being a much more sympathetic and fatherly character. After Quasimodo hurls him to his death, he stares at his master's (offstage) body on the ground and quietly states "There lies...all that I have ever loved..." before breaking down completely.
    • Quasimodo's wail immediately after that line is painful, both physically and in a tearjerking way, to hear. It sounds less like a grieving man and more like a fatally wounded animal. The fact that his last line in the show is simply him repeating "Gone," doesn't help either.
    • Frollo's final line as he plummets to his doom is to bellow "DAMNATION!" This can easily be taken to mean that he's referring to his own damnation—letting it finally sink in for him that he's sunk so low that God will absolutely not forgive him.
    • Even this version of "Hellfire" is a Tearjerker. You can tell from the tone in his voice alone that this version of Frollo is much closer to the tortured, tragic figure from the book than to the monster he was in the film.
  • In the USA production of "Someday", Esmeralda, who had spent the whole musical being The Determinator, and had just refused Frollo's deal to spare her, breaks down when the imminence of her death begins to sink in. Phoebus comforts her and they sing the rest of the song in each other's arms.
  • "Danse Mon Esmeralda" from the French rock opera version. Quasimodo goes into the catacombs to find Esmeralda's body and sings a very heartbreaking song about how much he loves her and that he will gladly stay with her body until he dies. IN the background are dancers on wires with them slowly working their way up to a light, possibly signifying that Esmeralda has gone to heaven.
  • When the USA production played at the Papermill Playhouse, and at the Fulton Opera House, the already gutwrenching finale was slightly altered to tie in with the original ending from the novel. After Quasi removes his "ugly" makeup, he faces the audience and tells them that years later, two skeletons were found in the crypts of Paris, one of a hunchbacked man and the other of a woman cradled in his arms. After someone tried removing the remains, they crumbled into dust.
  • The deleted song "In a Place of Miracles" is included in the show, but it's been reworked to be a much more bittersweet number. In the original scene, Esmeralda and Phoebus confess their love for one another, and while Quasimodo is heartbroken at first, he learns to accept their love after Phoebus and the others treat him with acceptance and kindness. In the show, he doesn't take it well at all, and laments on how everyone has found their "place of miracles" except him (the Dark Reprise of "Heaven's Light" is also worked into the song, making Quasi's situation even more tragic).
    • When Clopin and the Roma join in, they sing about their hopes of finding a place of miracles of their own, as in a place where their kind is accepted, not scorned. Clopin himself really hammers the point home.
    Clopin: Can there be a country kinder to our race?
  • Jehan's death is bad enough, but the broken way he recounts his lover Florika's death beforehand is particularly heartwrenching.
    Frollo: That Gypsy, you're with her!?
    Jehan: (forlornly) She died three months ago... the pox... terrible thing to watch her suffer...


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: