I Really Am Not Feeling This Hunchback of Notre Dame Remake
God help us all.
One of the next Disney films to be adapted to live-action will be one of the closest things Disney has to a “cult hit”, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The film will be penned by David Henry Hwang, with music by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. Mandeville films and Josh Gad will produce, with some rumors flying that Gad will play the titular character. The film will draw from both the animated film and the novel by Victor Hugo, but will not draw from the stage version that briefly was on Broadway.
Disney has been in a constant state of remaking their animated properties as live action films, with The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast drawing major box office numbers. This year will see three live action remakes: Aladdin, The Lion King, and Dumbo. At this point, they seem content to remake their entire animated catalogue rather than produce new films. It doesn’t help that remaking Hunchback isn’t a good idea in the slightest.
Hunchback has gained popularity for sweeping visuals and stunning music, but it is also a story that is filled with ableism. The idea of having another abled actor take on a disabled role plays into a long history of disabled actors being shut out from major work. Gad can carry dramatic scenes, but that still does not change the fact that he is an able-bodied actor who should not be playing this role in the first place.
Then there’s the question of Romani representation. Esmeralda will have to be played by a Romani actress, otherwise, the film will be whitewashing her role*. The film centers on the oppression of the Romani people, with frequent use of the slur “g*psy” to refer to these characters. This would require a sensitivity and awareness of anti-Romani stereotypes. I would feel more comfortable with the film if it had a Romani creative behind the scenes, and I’m going to be worried about this going forward until the casting is announced, which hopefully will not be terrible.
There’s also the fact that this is a difficult story to translate into a Disney film. The first one didn’t succeed at the box office, probably because the songs contained words like licentious; that tends to be a hard one for car ride singalongs. The story is about racism, ableism, and oppression, and without a gentle touch, this can be a mess of well-intentioned problems.
The screenwriter is a Tony award-winning playwright for M. Butterfly, so his script might be fairly decent. Still, there is plenty to worry about with regards to the narrative and the way that certain elements will be handled. Also, Disney does not need to keep remaking animated films. There have to be plenty of ideas for live-action properties that aren’t just shot-for-shot remakes of their earlier successes.
Only time will tell if this is a total disaster, mildly forgettable, or a surprise success. My fondness for the music hopes that it won’t be a complete mess, but I really do not think Disney is ready to make this film the way it needs to be made, and the story is dated as well. It might be time to look elsewhere for a script idea.
*Yes, in the original novel Esmeralda is white, but that was changed in the Disney version and will probably be reflected in this live-action version as well because the book origin is messy.
(via Deadline, image: Disney)
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