Wow! Finally, someone at this site who gets it! Thank you!
That said, I must confess that I have a certain affection for Disney Animation films, however, as you say, the demonisation of the 'ugly' and 'homely', and the suggestion that physical beauty, and moreover fair/blond(e) physical beauty is intrinsically 'good', is frankly disturbing. Not only is it ableist and a form of body-shaming, there's a disturbing 'Aryan'/Nazi subtext to Disney's attempts to indoctrinate us with the idea that 'blonde equals virtuous, and dark and swarthy, even relatively handsome dark and swarthy, equals evil and/or untrustworthy'.
And whilst I will credit The Hunchback of Notre Dame in finally giving us a Disney Animated movie with a *genuinely* deformed/'ugly' protagonist, you're also 100% correct to point out that in the original Victor Hugo story, the handsome Phoebus was much less admirable. It's also a big shame that Disney omitted the beautiful, but snooty, aristocrat, Fleur de Lys from this version, since she provided an interesting counterpoint to the similarly beautiful, but more virtuous Esmeralda (although one aspect of the update I do prefer is that in this version Esmeralda isn't a tragic and sacrificial innocent, but is given much more agency and is much feistier, and thus more likeable, and, oddly enough, much more convincing as a Romany street performer than the insipid and Cinderella-like 'wronged against' character from the original novel).
2 months ago
I was more upset over the fact that they excluded Gringoire, which didn't make much sense to me. Gringoire was really the heart and soul of the novel and the relatable everyman. He also was comic relief. I guess he wasn't "handsome enough" in the novel to fit into Disney's very narrow worldview where everyone is either drop dead gorgeous (and virtuous) or ugly (and evil).
About Esmeralda, I don't agree that she was Cinderella-like. She was an archetype of the dumb, impressionable girl who crushes hard on men for shallow reasons. Hugo was writing a cautionary tale for girls like that, to warn them to not be taken in by guys that look and play the part of the "rock star/teen idol" (in the case of the novel, Prince Charming/knight in shining armor, which would've been the equivalent). Esmeralda meets her demise because she's a childish teenager who refuses to accept that Phoebus isn't a knight in shining armor, even when she sees with her own eyes what a womanizing creep he is.