"Listen, their beautiful, no? So many colors of sound, so many changing moods. Because you know, they don't ring all by themselves."
In every story, regardless of it's origin, you will find a protagonist and antagonist. And with each story, the two character types find themselves defined more and more as good and evil. It hails from the connotation each word brings. When you think of a protagonist, you think of, as Hiccup from How to Train your Dragon put it, "an extra large boy with beefy arms, extra guts, and glory on the sides," and not as his description of himself, a "talking fishbone." However, they are traditionally given a deeper motive and character traits to define them from similar characters. For centuries this archetype has been the base for your protagonist. He/She needs to be the difference in the story, so more often than not, we follow them in a first person narrative. From their we get supporting characters, like their faithful sidekick, love interest, friends and family, and more.
Now, in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), the character who fits the common protagonist archetype is Captain Phoebus, the gallant captain with a highly reputable service record from the wars. Phoebus fits the basic protagonist mold, being a "knight in shining armor" but being more witty and brave than his common place appearance. His actions follow suit, taking orders from Judge Claude Frollo, who is in charge of justice in Notre Dame, until his vile tactics breach Phoebus’ moral bounds at the windmill, which Frollo orders Phoebus to burn down with people inside on the grounds of harboring gypsies. Rather than burn it down, he conspires against him, saving the family and being hunted down by the rest of Frollo’s minions. For the rest of the movie, Phoebus fights against Frollo, helping warn the gypsies at the Court of Miracles and freeing them in front of Notre Dame. In traditional storytelling sense, Phoebus would be considered the protagonist, especially if you include getting the girl, which in this case is Esmeralda, the gypsy who creates the rising action in the movie by going against Frollo during the festivities of the Feast of Fools.
However, the story is told from the perspective of Quasimodo, the deformed yet kind and compassionate bellringer. He was raised by Judge Claude Frollo, the devotely religious government official who seeks to rid the world of gypsies. The two are foils of each other, acting as opposites throughout the story, whether it be in action or in their appearance. Where Quasimodo is innocent and childesque, Frollo is merciless and guilty of crimes against humanity. Their voices are the easiest way to find this, where Quasimodo’s is high and childlike, showing the innocence he has to the world, and Frollo’s is low and menacing, reaching up from the fiery pits of hell from which he spawned from.
But, in the traditional sense of storytelling, Quasimodo isn’t the protagonist; isn’t the hero. His character is secondary, more of the innocent sidekick than the gallant hero. So the movie isn’t told from the perspective of the “protagonist”, but rather a sidekick or partner. His interactions with other characters are traditional for what you would expect from the partner, more specifically one that worked for the antagonist. For twenty years Quasimodo has been loyal to Frollo. He hasn’t tried to escape the bell tower or defy him, but he has yearned to go out there. When he does leave, something horrific happens, in this case his humiliation after being crowned the King of Fools. He’s shown compassion by Esmeralda, who is hunted by Frollo after her antics at the festival.
When Esmeralda is hunted by Frollo, the situation encapsulates this idea that Phoebus is the “protagonist”and not Quasimodo. Phoebus is the one to actually save Esmeralda’s life by saying she declared sanctuary within Notre Dame. Quasi then helps her escape while simultaneously defying Frollo. This antic, with one protecting then the other freeing the person in peril, is commonly used in team plans or partnerships. However, Phoebus would be more important because he actually saved her life. Quasi’s action was dependent on Phoebus’. Phoebus going back to check on Esmeralda and being confronted by Quasi cements this idea, with Phoebus doing his archetype’s traditional action and Quasi still being attached to Frollo while having already freed Esmeralda, advancing his character development.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is told from a secondary character’s perspective. Major actions happen with or without him. Phoebus, the knight in shining armor, ends up freeing the gypsies in front of Notre Dame, while Quasi saves Esmeralda and fights Frollo. Phoebus fills the traditional protagonist archetype while Quasi plays the protagonist for the movie, mainly because his point of view is more interesting. In the end, Phoebus saves Quasi as he falls from the top of the cathedral, being the knight in shining armor once again saving the person in peril. in the movie, Phoebus says his name means sun god in Greek. He literally is the shining light in Paris’ darkest hour, as stated by Frollo.
The quote from Clopin, the jester and leader of the gypsies, at the beginning summarizes the actions of Quasimodo. They are beautiful from their innocence, like a child doing the right thing and beaming with pride from it. But they’re not individual. They rely on someone else’s to happen, like all actions. Ultimately the movie is a fantastic view of the sidekick’s protagonist journey.
If you think I'm wrong let me know, I'm open to all ideas!