Esmeralda is the most divergent character in the Disney version from the book in both looks and personality. I already talked about her personality, now let’s look at her looks.
The Disney Esmeralda looks 100% Romani (Gypsy). She has a darker complexion, dark hair, and light green eyes (with no glint). Her eyes also do not change color pending on how much light is in the space, which kind of makes them look witchy. She keeps her hair pulled back and the way she does it, it creates a big poof. This poof makes her look older. When her hair is down she looks younger. Her hair also has a slight curl. Though in the middle of the epic running away from Frollo, her hair looks straight but that could just be inconsistencies in animation or the wind, take your pick. But it does look straight.
Her age is very vague. Most of the Disney characters have a rough age range or they just say (like Ariel and Jasmine). With this shift in Disney heroines being somewhat more independent and less dreamy, they appear to be older than the typical “Disney princess” (except Tiana, I would say she is like a compromise between the archetypal Princess and the confident independent heroine of the late nineties). The question is how old is Disney’s Esmeralda. With the age inflation that Disney implements, I’d say she most likely 22 at the youngest, which is old for a Disney heroine. The long and short of it is, Esmeralda is meant to be older like “she’s been around.” (not my phasing, watch the commentary, it’s the scene where Esmeralda is helping Quasimodo from the pillory.) To listen to the commentary, The DVD
Against the original novel by Victor Hugo, Esmeralda looks very different. Esmeralda is never described in graphic detail but she’s described as very beautiful frequently by many characters. Disney Esmeralda is meant to be beautiful certainly (what Disney main female character isn’t?) but she is never called beautiful in the movie. The closest mention to her looks is Clopin saying she’s “The Finest Girl is France” (which means she beats out Belle considering her cameo.)
Esmeralda in the book is not 100% Romani (Gypsy). Her mother is a French women and while her Father could have been a Gypsy, it is never actually mentioned who her father is. Esmeralda has a golden skin tone, black hair and black eyes. Part of Esmeralda’s charm in the book is her innocence and her total unawareness of her beauty. Disney Esmeralda is the complete and utter opposite; she knows her appeal, exploits it and given that quote by the director Kirk Wise that I mention earlier, I’m not sure how innocent she is. (I still wonder if the production actually read the book or just confused it with other Hunchback films) So it safe to say that Disney did not use Hugo for even a basis of Esmeralda’s design.
Looking at the concept art, Esmeralda started off looking more youthful and somehow along the way she lost the youthful look. My guess the vocal inspiration turned the table on character design. Alas Demi’s Moore doesn’t sound youthful, at least not when the film was recording the voices. For More Concept Art of Hunchback
It’s actually not Disney’s fault that Esmeralda’s looks/acts sexy whereas Hugo’s Esmeralda did not. The fault lies in the film history of Hunchback. Esmeralda has long been depicted as sexy or at least no stranger to feminine charms. Esmeralda has also been depicted by actresses who are more known for their sex appeal over acting prowess. Such actresses have been Stacia Napierkowska, Theda Bara, Gina Lollobrigida and Selma Hayak. Also Disney models their characters after the voice actor playing them, so with the choice of Demi Moore it was inevitable that Disney Esmeralda was going to be sexy and follow the line of sexy Esmeraldas. In a featurette of the movie, Moore said she could see herself in Esmeralda’s animation. While Disney took their cues from the 1939 version, I think Esmeralda’s look was based somewhat on Gina Lollobrigida’s Esmeralda as well as Demi Moore (maybe, I can’t really tell, I haven’t seen a ton of Moore’s “body of work” to discern her mannerism and/or acting style in Esmeralda’s animation.)
Next Time Phoebus