Disney needs to get started on a live-action The Hunchback of Notre Dame ASAP. With its blunt sociopolitical commentary on unjust public officials, poverty, mob mentality, acceptance, and the marginalized “other,” there has never been a better time; plus, what better tribute to the recently scorched cathedral than a live-action Disney film honoring it?
While The Hollywood Reporter confirmed Disney is working on developing a live-action The Hunchback of Notre Dame, they also stated that the film is not a priority for Disney. Nonetheless, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Tony-winning playwright David Henry Hwang is set to write the film while Mandeville Films and Josh Gad are set to produce. Original The Hunchback of Notre Dame composers Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz will take care of the music, promising to harness the melodic magic that made the animated feature an Oscar-nominated success.
But what of the cast? Well, since no speculative or official casting news has been released,
here are some casting options for a live-action The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Doug Jones as Clopin
I can’t think of a better option to play the king of criminals and outcasts of Paris than the most famous man you’ve never seen, Doug Jones. Jones has had prominent but relatively masked roles since the late 80s including Billy Butcherson in Hocus Pocus, Abe Sapien in Hellboy, the faun and the Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth, the Silver Surfer in Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, and the Amphibian Man in The Shape of Water. Jones has spent much of his career under heavy makeup and prosthetics, his tall and thin figure lending itself perfectly to a number of creature-type roles. Of course, this hasn’t kept Jones from gaining critical renown for his impressive ability to internalize his characters and give Oscar-worthy performances under pounds of makeup and, sometimes, without dialogue.
Clopin’s eccentric persona could be beautifully captured by Jones’ expressive and agile form. The almost all-knowing Clopin serves as the narrator of the Parisian tale, his voice, commentary, and whimsical presence appearing at critical moments in the story including the beginning and end as well as when Quasimodo meets Esmeralda and when he enters the court of miracles with Phoebus. If he can bring any of the magic he brought to The Shape of Water, Jones would be the perfect guide through the harrowing tale of Quasimodo. I just hope he can sing!
Jack Black, Peter Dinklage, and Betty White as the Gargoyles
Originally voiced by Jason Alexander, the goofy, smart-alecky Hugo would find a comfortable home in Jack Black. Already having proved himself comedic gold over the years and a talented voice-over actor with his voicing of Po in Kung Fu Panda, Black clearly has the ability edge to play Hugo. Additionally, his performances in School of Rock and Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny prove he also has the singing chops to bring the funny gargoyle to life in song as well as dialogue; the gargoyles’ song, “A Guy Like You,” is originally sung mostly by Hugo, an endeavor Black can do just as well if not better than Alexander.
Peter Dinklage would be a perfect fit for the rather serious and intellectual Victor whose authoritative voice and introspective musings call to mind that of Tyrion Lannister. The award-winning actor is not only experienced in voice acting and comedy but has also shown that he can easily carry a tune in the epic musical Game of Thrones teaser he did for Red Nose Day.
As for the sassy Laverne, Betty White would do nicely. White arguably has the longest spanning television career of any female actor much of which was spent making audiences laugh. Additionally, she’s done plenty of voice over work including the voice of Grandma Norma in Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. While I don’t know if the live-action Hunchback will retain the scene that alludes to The Wizard of Oz with Laverne maniacally cackling “fly, my pretties, fly” to her pigeons, White would undoubtedly slay that line.
Zac Efron and Zendaya as Phoebus and Esmeralda
Maybe The Greatest Showman is still ringing in my ears, but what about Zac Efron and Zendaya as our romantic couple, Captain Phoebus and Esmeralda? Zac Efron has proved himself a triple threat with leading roles in smash musicals like High School Musical, Hairspray, and The Greatest Showman. Zendaya is not far behind; having also started her career with Disney, Zendaya has come a long way since her days on Shake it Up. Her singing and dancing abilities have never been in question, and if there were any concerning her acting, The Greatest Showman cleared them right up.
The chemistry Efron and Zendaya achieved as Phillip Carlyle and Anne Wheeler in The Greatest Showman is exactly what a live-action Hunchback needs to make Quasimodo’s realization that his love is unrequited as heartbreaking as it was in the animated film; the dynamic between Phillip and Anne can be easily transposed onto the characters of Phoebus and Esmeralda. Furthermore, Phillip and Anne are remarkably similar to Phoebus and Esmeralda. Both Phillip and Phoebus occupy a space of racial, cultural, and economic privilege, one they initially honor and enact seemingly without guilt, while Anne and Esmeralda belong to marginalized lower classes. Of course, both Phillip and Phoebus quickly begin to change when Anne and Esmeralda (their soon-to-be love interests) show them the error of their ways.
Both Anna and Esmeralda are strong, beautiful, talented women who perform for a living and can take care of themselves. Plus, both find themselves attracted to men with whom a relationship is seemingly impossible because of their places in life; Anne and Esmeralda go from feeling initial attraction and hesitation to succumbing to their emotions, being severely disappointed, and finally finding their true loves.
Lastly, Efron and Zendaya have the perfect physiques to play the couple. Phoebus is supposed to be a strapping, handsome, clever charmer, characteristics audiences attribute not only to Efron’s many characters (even Ted Bundy), but also to Efron himself; and with her natural beauty and dance training, Zendaya would surely give us a fierce Esmerelda.
Nicolas Cage as Frollo
Other than the fact that the animated Frollo kind of looks like Nicolas Cage, there’s Cage’s long and varied career to consider. He’s played villains, heroes, and everything in between including a powerful sorcerer named Balthazar in Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Frollo is arguably the most complex and interesting character in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the darkest Disney villain; with its sinfully revealing lyrics, the sadistic and lustful song “Hellfire” confirms this. In the song, Frollo confesses his simultaneous infatuation with and hatred of Esmeralda vowing to kill her if she does not agree to be his. Authority, ego, and a dangerous sense of entitlement meet in Frollo; who better to bring that combination of creepy and crazy to life than the Oscar-winning Cage? However, the question stands: Can Cage sing? While his recent drunken rendition of Prince’s “Purple Rain” seems to suggest he can’t, I’ll bet a singing coach and a bit of rehearsal can fix that right up.
Josh Groban as Quasimodo
While Josh Groban has not had major feature film roles, he would be perfect to voice Quasimodo. Originally voiced by Tom Hulce, Quasimodo has a powerful vibrato in the animated feature, one that is definitely reminiscent of Groban who established himself in the American music scene with his debut album Josh Groban in 2001. In addition to a beautiful vibrato, Quasimodo also rocks an impressive falsetto, one that Groban can easily match. Of course, it’s not just his pipes that qualify him for the role, it’s also the emotion Groban manages to evoke through them. If he can manage to channel the emotion from his singing into voice acting, then Groban is capable of giving us a remarkable performance as Quasimodo.
Regardless of whether you agree with my casting suggestions or not, my guess is that if you took the time to read this you appreciate The Hunchback of Notre Dame enough to want a live-action version pronto. So, Disney, if you’re reading, now that Dumbo, Aladdin, and Lion King are pretty much good to go, could you start on a live-action The Hunchback of Notre Dame?