DAY 2: Greatest Movie Musicals Numbers 15-11
15: The Lion King
Director: Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff
Starring: Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons (voices)
One of the house of mouse’s most sweeping and majestic musicals, The Lion King quite rightly barnstormed its way to being the most successful animated feature film of all time upon its release in the early 90’s. With renaissance musical maestro Alan Menken committed to what was considered Disney’s more important project, Pocahontas, it was left to Tim Rice and Elton John to come up with the soundtrack for the movie, with Hans Zimmer supporting them with one of his finest scores to date (and all three bagged Oscars for their troubles). Whilst some of the songs are less progressive to plot and character and more incidental than some of the musicals higher on this list, there is still a great amount of diversity and vitality to the numbers on offer. For every pausing Can You Feel the Love Tonight and philosophical Circle of Life there is the decidedly Broadway-esque I Just Can’t Wait To Be King and peppy Hakuna Matata. It’s not Disney’s most assured or sophisticated use of song, but there’s no doubting even after nearly 20 years The Lion King is one of the most complete and emotive musicals put to celluloid, animated or otherwise.
Encore!: “Circle of Life” and “Hakuna Matata”
Steals the Show: Jeremy Irons droll, borderline-camp take on the main antagonist Scar brings some subtler and deadpan humour to proceedings.
14: Singing in the Rain
Director: Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly
Starring: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds
Very few musicals on this list have as everlasting and enduring an appeal as Singing in the Rain, and it is difficult to envisage any such countdown not featuring it somewhere. Whilst it is not a personal favourite, there is no denying its longevity and staying power, containing as it does so many iconic visual and audio vignettes that continue to be recognised and utilised to this day (the titular musical sequence was revamped and edited for use in, of all things, a Volkswagen commercial as recently as 2005). It is atypical of its time, in particular its self-fascination with the Hollywood process of yesteryear, but this is not a bad thing, with the whole production becoming a joyous hybrid of stage, film, musical and drama, and one that to this day still looks and sounds sumptuous.
Encore!: “Singing in the Rain”, “Good Morning” and “Gotta Dance”
Steals the Show: It is in many ways Gene Kelly’s finest hour, and definitely one of his most iconic and lasting performances, so it would be a crime to give this honour to anybody else (even Cyd Charisse and her fabulous legs).
Director: Carol Reed
Starring: Ron Moody, Shani Wallis, Oliver Reed, Mark Lester
Oliver! has the undesirable issue of being a film adaptation of a broadway musical based on a book which had already been adapted to film several times prior, including David Lean’s seminal Oliver Twist 20 years prior. Despite all this pre-existing baggage, and uncertainty on how it would be received, the film was a deserved success and went on to perform the rare feat for musicals of snatching the Best Director and Best Picture academy awards. As well as the instantly catchy and infinitely hummable soundtrack featuring such musical staples as “Consider Yourself” and “Food, Glorious Food” the film boasted extraordinary production design and choreography in particular which belied it’s mostly confined studio shoot. A pitch-perfect cast including inspired performances from the younger cast (although the decision to dub Oliver’s singing by one of the producers daughters is still seen as overly effeminate by many to this day) brought Dickens’ tale to life in glorious, timeless musical splendor.
Encore!: “Food, Glorious Food”, “Consider Yourself”, “Who Will Buy?” and “Oom-Pah-Pah”
Steals the Show: Ron Moody in making Fagin a decidedly more entertaining, endearing and empathetic figure than he could have been (and was in the original novel), and Jack Wild for his vibrant, cocksure Artful Dodger.
12: The Sound of Music
Director: Robert Wise
Starring: Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Eleanor Parker
Fresh off her star-making and oscar-winning turn in Mary Poppins, Julie Andrews swiftly moved on to cement herself as the queen of the 1960’s musical scene with her equally memorable turn here. From one of the most parodied and referenced movie openings of all time through to its Nazi-besting denouement, The Sound of Music is full of more classic musical moments and numbers than you can shake a Nun’s habit at. As the final Rodgers and Hammerstein musical (the latter dying of cancer nine months after the original stage productions Broadway premiere) it is fitting that is has seeped into the cultural psyche and motion picture history so indelibly. For generations to come musical lovers will be pondering how to ‘solve a problem like Maria’, pondering which are a few of their ‘favorite things’ and ‘Do-Re-Mi’ing their way up ‘Ev’ry Mountain’.
Encore!: “The Sound of Music”, “Do-Re-Mi” and “My Favorite Things”
Steals the Show: It seems like a cop-out to opt once again for the lead, but Julie Andrews is far too endearing and radiant as Maria to have anyone steal the limelight (even the marvellous Peggy Wood in her final film role as the wise, gentle Mother Abbess). As with Mary Poppins, Andrews is the light, heart, soul and voice of the film.
Director: Adam Shankman
Starring: John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Nikki Blonsky
The most recent entry on the list, Hairspray, much like the stage show from which it was adapted is an excessively joyous, shamelessly over-the-top and irrepressibly endearing explosion of colour, humour and song. Boasting a deceptively witty and referential soundtrack by Marc Shaiman, Hairspray throws subtlety out the window from the get-go with its heightened 60’s aesthetic, cross-drossing lead role and spunky, satirising cast of misfits and social outcasts. Whilst it does add depth to its narrative by bringing in some biting social commentary on equality of race and gender in particular, and uses it’s bubbly, loveable protagonist to overturn any misconceptions of size and weight, this is a film which is at its best and most effective being loud, colourful and genuinely funny, with some genuine toe-tappers and show-stoppers along the way, including two brilliant tracks both opening and closing the film in the form of the excellent “Good Morning Baltimore” and “You Can’t Stop The Beat”. If the main prerogative of the movie musical is to entertain, Hairspray is one of it’s greatest torch-bearers.
Encore!: “Good Morning Baltimore”, “Welcome to the 60’s” and “You Can’t Stop The Beat”
Steals the Show: Whilst everyone’s attention was fixated on John Travolta’s scenery-chewing lead turn as Edna Turnblad (a performance that loses much of its irony and rawness from the stage version), there were more noteworthy supporting turns from the likes of James Marsden as the charismatic, crooning Corny Collins, Christopher Walken as the quirky, goofy Wilbur and in particular Alison Janney who gives a great comedic turn as Penny’s overbearing mother with relatively little screentime.
NEXT BLOG: Greatest Movie Musicals Numbers 10-6
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