The current trend of television dramas based on dark, gritty fairy tale worlds has produced a hit in the form of ABC’s Once Upon A Time, and while similar shows like NBC’s Grimm and the CW’s Beauty and the Beast haven’t quite caught on in the same way (despite both of the latter shows receiving renewals this year), the trend of revisionist interpretations of these classic stories is here to stay.
On the surface, Disney’s next show along these lines seems like the latest in a long line of series based on their animated feature hits, but this one has an interesting twist.
Deadline reports that ABC is developing Esmeralda, a (presumably live-action) period drama take on The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
The series will focus on the title character Esmeralda, the beautiful gypsy love interest of Quasimodo (the hunchback). The show will be written by Evan Daugherty (Snow White & The Huntsman), who will also executive produce for Mandeville Films.
Esmeralda will most likely not adopt the light-hearted tone of Disney’s 1996 animated version, and instead reflect the darker tone of Daugherty’s Snow White revamp.
Esmeralda is just the latest version of Victor Hugo’s gothic novel, originally published in 1831. There have been numerous film and stage adaptations (including a 1905 short film called Esmeralda, interestingly enough), with attempts to turn the story in a TV series in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.
In the original novel, the Esmeralda character is actually the protagonist. A kind-hearted gypsy dancer, she captures the heart of every man who sees her, including Quasimodo and Claude Frollo, the uptight archdeacon of Notre Dame cathedral and Quasimodo’s adoptive father. Frollo is usually the main antagonist in all these different renderings of the story – succumbing to his lust for Esmeralda, he has the hunchback kidnap her and (in the original novel) has her hanged out of jealousy.
While many of later adaptations conjure up a happy ending (although Quasimodo loses her to one of the story’s other suitors), there is a 1956 French version starring Anthony Quinn which ends exactly as the novel did: Esmeralda is hanged, Quasimodo kills Frollo and then starves to death in an underground vault, unable to leave her body. The Disney version has a patently Disney ending, with the hunchback giving Esmeralda and her chosen lover his blessing, and the couple in turn coax Quasimodo out of the cathedral, where he is accepted as a hero by the outside world.
This year’s Sleepy Hollow TV series is another classic tale brought to life and updated on modern network television – and Elementary, last year’s Sherlock Holmes update, proved successful enough for a sophomore season. While the source material is pretty dark, The Hunchback of Notre Dame has always been one of the defining gothic novels: rich, atmospheric, and dark as hell. Evan Daugherty brought some needed grit to his take on Snow White, but it’s anyone’s guess as to how much of Victor Hugo’s source novel Disney and ABC will retain for the series. However, the period setting could indicate that some key elements will likely appear.
Esmeralda is currently in development, with no release date set. Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.