Ever since Disney has started doing live-action remakes of all their films, I wondered if they would ever get around to The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It might be hard to do, since the themes animation can “tone down” on screen in live-action come across as much more… mature. You can get away with Frollo singing about lust in an animated movie… but with real actors and sets, it becomes much more powerfully real.
They announced this week that it’s in pre-production. I am not surprised because we’re in the middle of the #MeToo movement, which is all about powerful men extracting sexual favors from women and getting away with it – and that’s what Frollo wants to do with Esmeralda. He has the power to arrest and imprison her. He has the power to rape her. He intends to use his power and authority to force her into his bed. He gives her that choice on a bonfire – sleep with him or die. And she spits in his face. You go, girl.
It’s the perfect way to bring public attention to power dynamic issues through a narrative form and show just how contemptible it is, but it will also take guts… and a PG13 rating to do it justice. Has Disney the courage to commit to it? To bring out these themes in a serious way (racism, genocide, sexual harassment, emotional and physical abuse), and not water them down?
I hope so, because if they do, and if they add into the story in positive ways, they could easily produce one of my favorite live-action films. I do not want a straight up remake. I do not want a minimum of changes. I want actual depth and thought and perspective to go into this, otherwise it’s just a copy of an already brilliant film. I have seen the original a hundred times. I have listened to it twice that. I can quote it from memory. I love the animation, and the music. I think it has the most stunning animation outside Pocahontas. I have sung its praises often on this blog. Bring me something new in this remake, give it a powerful edge, remove what doesn’t work (the talking gargoyles) and improve on it, otherwise don’t do it.
I thought they improved on Cinderella, but Beauty & the Beast disappointed me. The character animation was subpar and they did not add in enough original content. Dumbo should be unique with Tim Burton at the helm (though I am afraid I’ll cry). I’m not sure about Aladdin. Guy Richie may bring a fun twist to it, but Robin Williams is irreplaceable. I have not been too attached to the movies they have remade thus far (The Lion King notwithstanding — we will see), but HoND has a special place in my heart.
If done right, this movie could be stunning. They could film inside and around Notre Dame. They can flesh out the characters. Give them new and better back stories. Pull more from the novel. Give Frollo reasons to still be single, as a high ranking official. Tell us where Quasimodo came from. (One draft I read had the Romani woman who died to protect him be his mother’s midwife, not his mother. She took him to save him, after his mother’s death. What an awesome way to subvert the “thieves” trope!) Have incredible cinematography. And choose a brilliant cast, preferably of the right ethnicity. But I’m a little worried they won’t.
I don’t want them to play it safe. I don’t want them to cast popular people just because they are famous. I do not want subpar singing. Show me something I have not seen before, show me Paris! Show me who these characters are! Show Clopin, who wants to hang our heroes, for who he is, a brand of evil in his own right. And I don’t want the wrong Frollo. He is the menace of the story, miscast him and it all falls apart. Pick an actor who can be vulnerable and terrifying both. Then, I’ll be on board.
What do you think? Who would you like them to cast? Do you look forward to this remake or feel apprehensive? I’m a mixture of pure excitement and trepidation!