I do not hate Salma Hayek, I loved her in Frida, and I think she is a decent to good actress. The problem with Hayek is she is often typecast as the feisty independent women and because of that it’s very hard to separate Hayek from her depiction of Esmeralda.
Esmeralda in the 1997 version is dull. She is nice, sexy, caring and likes her independence but there is not a lot to her. Generally, most Esmeraldas have little to work with other than being kind and beautiful.
Hayek’s Esmeralda does get a bit of social justice but it comes from guilt over Quasimodo getting punished because of her, which is a bit of an issue. In this version, Esmeralda is only briefly put off by Quasimodo’s looks and Quasimodo does not try to kidnap her, in fact he tries to help and Esmeralda know this. When Esmeralda tries to help Quasimodo by appealing to the king for his release, her giving him water is like a consolation to make it up to him. It’s not that she was moved by a whim. It lacks the sweetness that has in other versions where Esmeralda is clearly the one who the wrong was done to.
By all counts Hayek is a really good casting choice. Hayek has really good exotic look which for an Esmeralda who is a full-Romani is really good. She was on the upper edge of being a little too old to play Esmeralda but the film doesn’t really talk about her youth or naivety too much so it’s not a big issue.
Really, she should have been the perfect Esmeralda. her performance is not her fault as she had little to work with. She has no arc and has nothing to do outside of being nice and dancing suggestively.
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