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My Story: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

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posted by alias A Thousand Splendid Dolls on Saturday 5th of October 2019 09:12:51 PM

To some, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” might be one of Disney’s forgotten films. Unlike “Frozen,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid,” etc, it’s not one of the movies that maintained its prominence after its initial release. The dolls inspired by the film were only briefly available, and there were just a handful produced. Likewise, the scale of general merchandising was diminutive, when compared to the giants such as “Frozen.” Esmeralda, Phoebus, and Quasimodo dolls only appeared with the initial debut of the movie. These familiar faces were not brought back for later doll lines. Even the Disney Store only produced one version of Esmeralda, which is surprising considering how many other random characters are currently available. But despite this, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” was always one of the most prevalent Disney films of my childhood. Not only was I obsessed with the movie, but my few dolls and toys from it were among my most special. That’s the main reason I felt it was so utterly important to write a special “essay” on just “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” To not do so would be turning my back on my childhood passion. Although it wasn’t one of the movies or doll types that was flung in my face constantly these past few years, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” was just as much a part of my adult doll story as it was for my youth. I can’t honestly say I remember where my love for “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” started. Did I see the movie first, or did I own one of the dolls? These are questions that I don’t have answers to anymore. Time seems to have erased my memory, but which came first honestly did not matter in the end. I was equally passionate for my dolls and the movie. In fact, Mom and Dad tried tirelessly to get me my own VHS of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” for several years. When I was growing up, it wasn’t as easy as ordering whatever movie you wanted online. Nor could you do a quick search on the internet to see which stores has it in stock. Mom and Dad had to do a fair amount of pavement pounding to see if they could get me the movie. Dad was so desperate in fact, that I recall he even offered to buy the copy at the video rental store in town (which the owner declined). So for some time I had to settle for owning the “Hunchback of Notre Dame” computer game. It was a blast to play--I recall the hours Colleen and I spent flinging tomatoes on the screen at the gargoyles, or stopping soldiers from climbing the walls of Notre Dame. Of all the games we had as kids, this one is most vivid in my memory, and I was heartbroken the day it stopped working in a newer computer. But for Christmas one year, I finally got my dream “Hunchback of Notre Dame” VHS. It was some years later, which meant it survived better with time as it wasn’t as old. But don’t be mistaken, it was watched just as much as some of our other faves, like “Snow White” or “Aladdin.” Ironically, it was so much easier as an adult to find the movie on DVD. It turned up at Wal-Mart randomly one day, and I decided to snag it while I could, even though it was $10 (which I thought was kind of pricey). There were so many parts of the movie that resonated with me as a little girl. To say which part meant the most to me would be impossible. But my main takeaway was that people were far too judgmental, and were easily swayed by the differences in one another. I felt immense pity on Quasimodo as he was a lonely prisoner up in the towers of Notre Dame, and was left to watch the rest of the world through windows. I would tear up whenever Esmeralda and her people were mistreated and hunted down for what I deemed to be no reason. Even my younger self could see the hypocrisy in Frollo’s ways--he murdered Quasimodo’s mother and had other Romani people killed at his request, and yet thought his stake in the church somehow made him a “good” person. The dark undertones of the movie and the grim reality that this kind of persecution really happened made “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” stand apart from the other more light hearted films of my childhood. It’s one of the reasons I still love the movie just as much as an adult viewer. I had my first Esmeralda doll long before I owned a copy of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” on VHS. Despite my very young age, I still vividly recall the first occasion we happened upon a display of the dolls. Mom had taken Colleen and me out shoe shopping. Right by the shoe aisles, there was a small display in the middle of the aisle of Hunchback merchandise. I was immediately drawn to the colorful boxes and cartoony faces inside them. Mom insisted that we wait to look at the toys until we were done with the boring shoe shopping. But afterwards, she stayed true to her word and let me have a look. Instantaneously, I was captivated by Dancing Esmeralda. I drooled over her festive, gorgeous dress and her sultry facial expression. I HAD to get this doll, and luckily I must have had enough allowance money to buy her. That day, Esmeralda got to come home with me. Although it was so many years ago, I also vaguely remember seeing the solo Phoebus and Quasimodo dolls at the store too, as well as the horse and True Hearts Gift Set. Part of me wanted desperately to collect more of the characters. I think though that the dolls weren’t stocked as well as others from Disney movies of the past, and I also had trouble saving up for one thing when I was a kid. Let’s just say money burned a hole in my pocket. Esmeralda ended up being one of the most worthy dolly investments of my lifetime. She was a fast favorite, and one of the most played with dolls I ever owned. I know that some of my fictitious character traits I gave Esmeralda were based on her movie persona. She was a feisty, impoverished young woman, who had little to call her own. I recall that she was often homeless in our scenarios, living on the streets with a few meager belongings. But that’s where the movie accuracy ended. Esmeralda was also a mother in our doll games. Colleen at the time had a fancy for my African American Bathtime Fun Kelly, aka Kelsey. Once my Princess Mermaid Ariel was given the boot for my new, shiny Esmeralda doll, Kelsey had a new mom. Ariel did not get retired entirely though, she was often cast as a cooky cast member, when the role of a “crazy” person was required. Somehow, someway Esmeralda ended up falling into one of the greatest love story roles we ever had. I recall that we were playing a game with Kocoum and Doctor Barbie, aka Julia (who at the time was an unknown, secondhand doll on the wrong body). We cast many of our other shabby childhood friends as Julia and Kocoum’s daughters. Julia was a villain from the beginning--she verbally and physically abused the girls when Kocoum wasn’t home, and was a lazy louse. She only married Kocoum for his money, and greedily hoped to be rich one day. I don’t recall if it was planned or if it all happened by chance. But Kocoum met the destitute Esmeralda and fell in love. He welcomed her in his home, and gave Esmeralda and Kelsey a place to stay. This was of course after his wife Julia ran off with another, wealthier man. From then on, Esmeralda and Kocoum were an item. To this day, Colleen and I still keep their romance alive, even though our childhood Kocoum is long gone. It’s often a joke we reference in our dolly skits, and anytime I see Kocoum or one of my Esmeralda dolls, I can’t help but be reminded of the other. Esmeralda was so loved that it’s only natural that she was worn out very early on. I recall breaking her elaborate crown at my grandparents’ house, and the velcro of her dress picking at all its delicate details. My doll’s hair became a dreaded mess too, which I attempted to fix with a blow dry treatment and a trim. In the end, Esmeralda was left with pin straight hair that was unevenly cut...with no bangs! That’s why she got a reroot when I was an adult collector, because there was no salvaging my childhood “makeover.” Despite her shabbiness, Esmeralda was still held at a high esteem. I also loved using her dress on other dolls--for some reason I thought it was particularly dashing on my Giggles ‘n Swing Barbie. But I did long for another, pristine Esmeralda. That’s the reason I was so ecstatic the day the “classic” Esmeralda showed up at the local flea market. I was probably around nine years old when this big footed Es appeared for just $2. She was wearing her white dress, not her signature white and purple getup that I coveted. But since she had the same face as my beloved Dancing gal, I had to adopt this lady. Unfortunately, her large feet were very unflattering, so I didn’t play with her much because of them. Ironically, I never really remember my Dancing Es wearing shoes...she was almost always bare foot. So I’m not sure why the big feet were such a turn off for me (although I do agree that her articulated body type was rather masculine). Since “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” merchandise had been so limited from the beginning, I wasn’t able to find anymore dolls new or secondhand as a kid. It was frustrating to see that Esmeralda was not a character who was brought back for later collections, like Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. To me this was such a disgrace--I always admired Esmeralda’s spunky, independent was far more appealing than say Aurora’s damsel in distress persona. As an adult collector, I was able to make my childhood dreams of owning more “Hunchback of Notre Dame” dolls come true. In fact, it was one of my first orders of business after a five year hiatus. While flipping through Margo Rana’s “Disney Dolls Identification & Price Guide book,” I was enamored by the few pages dedicated to Esmeralda and co. I was shocked and grateful to learn that I already owned the horse for the movie--I had gotten him years before in a random doll lot we acquired. I never realized that he was meant for Phoebus and Esmeralda, although I should have known by the reversible saddle. Both Colleen and I were very interested in getting a Phoebus doll for our blossoming collection. I found the perfect lot on eBay a few days into my first adult dolly binge. There was the tent and the True Hearts set for only $30ish (including shipping). What a bargain it was, and fortunately I believe it was a “Buy It Now” option, which meant it wouldn’t get pricier via bids. What makes this set so special to me is that it was the very first purchase of mine to arrive in the mail. While I had ordered Satiny Shimmer Mulan before any other doll after a five year break, it was my True Hearts lot and a Dream Waltz Anastasia who arrived first. So technically they were my very first adult purchased dolls I added to the collection. Phoebus was everything we had dreamed of since we were kids, and True Hearts Esmeralda was just as beautiful as my childhood Dancing girl. Not long after, I bid on a listing for a “classic” Phoebus, and also another lot for a Phoebus and Quasimodo. I ended up winning both listings (this was poor eBay use on my part), so that’s how we ended up with two “classic” Phoebus dolls. “Canadian” Phoebus was first to come in the mail, and when Colleen met him, it was true love. He was so intriguing to her, that we ended up secretly playing with our new Disney acquisitions downstairs some weeks later (I was nineteen at the time). Because of this, I’ve always considered Phoebus to be more Colleen’s doll than mine. I recollect how much she adored our Phoebus paper doll we had growing up, and how she would often fantasize about owning the “real deal” plastic guy. It was a wonderful feeling making that childhood wish a reality! Despite not having all that many dolls simply because there were only a few produced, I always had a shelf designated just for my “Hunchback of Notre Dame” friends. The tent and horse filled out the empty space nicely, and as time wore on, a few more dolls joined the collection. I currently have all the Mattel dolls that were made, except for “Basic” Esmeralda. Most are filler dupes who I acquired secondhand, my favorite being my third Dancing Esmeralda. A friend gave me my second Dancing Es, but it was my triplicate who most embodied the spirit of my childhood doll. Colleen and I were at the flea market one day in the late fall of 2012. I will never forget how excited we were when we happened upon a familiar looking Barbie motorhome and saw the two Barbies sitting in the front seats. A rather homely Ken (who turned out to be Winter Sports) was sitting alongside a stunning Dancing Esmeralda. This must have been the previous owner’s makeshift family, because in the back of the motorhome, we found two Teacher Barbie kids. Even though my Dancing Esmeralda has “dated” Kocoum since, I always think of her and Winter Sport Ken as an item and the two Teacher kids as their offspring. Anyways, she was the closest thing to a mint Dancing Esmeralda I had yet to come across. And something about her “spirit” was the same as my forlorn childhood friend. She’s my favorite Esmeralda in my collection to date, although I’ll admit I still couldn’t resist buying a boxed Dancing Es to open (if I ever found one for the right price in the “wild”). Old friends, new friends, formerly underappreciated ones…..childhood memories, adulthood memories, and dreams that came true….all of these things comprise my “Hunchback of Notre Dame” collection. I never imagined as a little girl that I’d be lucky enough to have so many wonderful dolls from this film, and that my childhood Esmeralda would still be around. There is something about this movie and the dolls that accompany it that remind me so fondly of growing up. Other than perhaps Aladdin and Pocahontas, I can’t think of a Disney movie or dolls that summarize my youth more so than “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Even Mom and Dad knew how much I adored the film and my Esmeralda….it was no secret. It started out when I was just six years old, but my passion for this movie and the dolls has only thrived as time has gone on. I still feel the same magic and wonderment whenever I pop my DVD in. It’s even more exciting now because I can ogle all the characters I loved so much and know that I have the dolls to bring the movie “to life” in my room. Just as much as these dolls remind me of being a kid, they also reignited my passion as an adult collector. True Hearts Phoebus and Esmeralda were after all two of the first dolls I ever acquired after a five year break. This is a special title that few dolls can say they have. When I look at my “Hunchback of Notre Dame” collection, the dolls remind me that as much as some things change, so much stays the same….my love for them has lived on through the decades, and with it, new life and memories have been born!

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