During the 1482 Festival of Fools in Paris, Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame, is elected the Pope of Fools for being the ugliest person in Paris. He is hoisted on a throne and paraded around Paris by the jeering mob. Pierre Gringoire, a struggling poet and philosopher, tries unsuccessfully to get the crowd to watch his play instead of the parade. Archdeacon Claude Frollo appears and stops the parade and orders Quasimodo back to Notre Dame with him. Looking for something to eat, Gringoire admires the graceful beauty of La Esmerelda, a gypsy street dancer, and decides to follow her home. After rounding a corner, she is suddenly attacked by Quasimodo and Frollo. Gringoire rushes to help her but is knocked out by Quasimodo as Frollo runs away. The King's Archers, led by Phoebus de Chateaupers arrive just in time and capture the hunchback. Later that night, a group of beggars and thieves are about to hang Gringoire when La Esmerelda comes forward and offers to save his life by "marrying" him for four years only.
The next day, Quasimodo is put on trial and sentenced to two hours of torture in the Place de Grève. He suffers both the pain of being stretched and pulled apart as well as being publicly humiliated by the crowd of people, who hate him for his ugliness. He begs for water, but no one answers his pleas until La Esmerelda comes forth and brings him something to drink. Nearby, a recluse called Sister Gudule, screams at La Esmerelda for being a "gypsy child- thief" and blames her for her daughter's kidnapping fifteen years earlier. A few months later, La Esmerelda is dancing in front of Notre Dame and Phoebus calls her over to him. She has fallen in love with him and blushes when he asks her to meet him later that night. Frollo watches them from the top of Notre Dame and becomes insanely jealous of Phoebus. His obsessive lust for La Esmerelda has made him renounce God and study alchemy and black magic. In his secret cell at Notre Dame, he plans to trap La Esmerelda like a spider catching a fly with its web. Later that night he follows Phoebus to his tryst with La Esmerelda and stabs Phoebus repeatedly. He escapes and La Esmerelda is captured by the King's guard.
After being tortured at her trial, La Esmerelda falsely confesses to killing Phoebus and being a witch. She is sentenced to hang in the Place de Grève. Frollo visits her in jail and declares his love. He begs her to love him and show him some pity but she calls him a "goblin-monk" and a murderer, refusing to have anything to do with him. Before her execution, La Esmerelda is publicly humiliated in front of Notre Dame. Looking across the square, she suddenly sees Phoebus and calls out his name. He actually survived the murder attempt but doesn't want anyone to know that he was injured. He turns away from La Esmerelda and enters the house of his bride-to-be. Just then, Quasimodo swings down on a rope from Notre Dame and carries her back to the cathedral, crying out "Sanctuary!" He had fallen in love with her when she brought him water and had been planning her escape all along.
La Esmerelda is safe from execution just as long as she stays inside the cathedral. At first, she finds it hard to even look at Quasimodo, but they form an uneasy friendship. Even though he is deaf, he enjoys being around her when she sings. Meanwhile, a group of vagabonds resolves to save La Esmerelda after hearing that Parliament has ordered that she be removed from Notre Dame. But when Quasimodo sees them attack the cathedral, he thinks they have come to kill La Esmerelda and he fends them off as best he can, killing a large number of them. Frollo has used the attack as a diversion to sneak La Esmerelda out of the cathedral. He offers her two choices: she can either say she loves him or be hanged. She demands to be executed and he leaves her with Sister Gudule. To their astonishment, they discover that they are mother and daughter. Gudule tries to protect La Esmerelda, but it is too late. Back at Notre Dame, Quasimodo goes to the top of the north tower to find her. Gazing off into the distance, he sees the figure of La Esmerelda in a white dress hanging from the scaffold. He bellows out in despair and grabs Frollo by the neck. Holding him up in the air, Quasimodo sighs with grief and then throws Frollo down to his death. Looking at La Esmerelda hanging off in the distance and Frollo's wrangled corpse down below, Quasimodo cries out: "There is everything I ever loved!" Quasimodo is never seen again. Years later when a gravedigger stumbles across La Esmerelda's remains, he finds the skeleton of a hunchback curled around her.