Before Disney’s live-action remakes of Maleficent and Cinderella, the prospect of remaking an animated classic into a flesh-and-blood update was an idea that was met with mixed, if not outright negative, reaction. Yet somehow, someway, these adaptations managed to turn children’s fairy tales into films that dazzled as much as they rekindled old memories of Disney magic.
So naturally, this means that the already in production Beauty And The Beast is more than safe, and throws open the doors to live action re-runs of Dumbo, Mulan, and most recently Pinocchio. Yet there’s one Disney film that took its time to find an audience, due to its darker source material and not so traditional flavor. This is a film that deserves the live action treatment more than any other Disney animated film, as the building blocks are already there for this project to take flight. Disney, it’s time to redeem The Hunchback Of Notre Dame once and for all.
First released in 1996, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame was part of the waning Golden Age at Disney’s animation studio. Coming off of the high of the legendarily successful release of The Lion King, Disney started to feel a bit of a back slide as Pocahontas and even Hunchback failed to bring in as much of a profit as Simba and his pride had managed to bag. While both films were criticized for their handling of their source material in a "Disney-fied" sense of story, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame still stands as a shockingly subversive Disney film that tackles religious zealotry, as well as a litany of other issues not so clearly spelt out in the subtext. The film does handicap itself by turning Frollo into a seething, rosary-twirling villain, and including the gargoyles that -- while charming -- really don’t belong in the film. But those elements aside, the film is a marvel to behold. Besides, any Disney movie that puts itself on the line to deliver a villain song as epic as "Hellfire" is something that deserves massive praise. You can watch that song, in all of its majesty, in the video below.
It wouldn’t be until 1999 that Disney would set the wheels of redemption in motion, as a live-action German production of The Hunchback Of Notre Dame premiered, and would go on to run for three straight years. With a story closer to the original Victor Hugo novel and songs straight from the Disney film, the story earned itself a new lease on life. In 2013, the project would pick up steam and head to the U.S. for a successful run that concluded just last weekend. Successful changes were put in place. The gargoyles became stone statues in Quasimodo’s imagination. Frollo’s motivations involving his charge were more personally fleshed out. And the original, bittersweet ending involving Esmeralda’s death was reinstated into the musical’s story. For a film that angered the family of Victor Hugo when it came out almost 20 years ago, you couldn’t imagine a better redemption than a possible shot at Broadway glory, similar to that of Mary Poppins before it.
Sadly, there is no Broadway transfer in the works at this moment, though fans are as eager to change that fact as ever. But Broadway shows are expensive to create, and even more expensive to keep running. Not to mention, the cast tends to change, become injured, or book plans elsewhere – which means the cast that was in the California/New Jersey run of the show would only be around for a short time. With a cast this great, and a project this good, it’s clearly time for Disney to bring back The Hunchback Of Notre Dame for a live action, feature film musical. You can take a look at the recent Paper Mill Playhouse production in the glimpse provided in the video below.
The big stumbling block that Disney will bring up is the fact that the original film didn’t do too hot when it was released into theaters. This isn't totally accurate. The film made $325 million on a $100 million budget – which is not much different than Mulan’s $304 million on a $90 million budget. If Mulan is viable enough to be brought into live action, then so is The Hunchback Of Notre Dame - especially considering both films have the same dishonor of having a subpar direct-to-video sequel.
Also, considering Cinderella was budgeted at $95 million – right between the animated incarnations of both films in question, it doesn’t even have to require that huge of a budget to look that spectacular. Release the film in a March release date, spruce up the original animated classic for a Diamond Edition re-release to ride the wave, and you’ve got what could be a moderately budgeted experiment in the lab that Disney has already experienced success in. This is especially important because the stage version’s cast is just too good not to lobby for being involved, with Michael Arden’s Quasimodo and Patrick Page’s Frollo anchoring a full cast of talent that shines brighter than any stunt casting you’ll ever see.
It’s time for Disney to dig a little deeper and start remaking animated films that don’t have their own theme-park attractions. Though, to be fair, theme park attractions were an unknown quantity until Disney made Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl, so clearly the studio is no stranger to experimenting with past properties. The world is ready for a new version of The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, as the themes of religious persecution and a judgemental society are now more relevant than ever. Also, the brand new musical production is just too good to fade into the background; and if Broadway will not answer the call of the bells, then Hollywood is an even better partner to enlist!
The world is ready for the beauty and the sheer amazement that awaited audiences when they sat down to enjoy the stage version of The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. To deny them such a privilege would be downright sad.