It seems that the movie musical is enjoying a bit of a resurgence lately. Last year’s near Oscar success for La La Land seems to have ushered in a new wave of musical mega-hits, such as Beauty & The Beast, The Greatest Showman and this summer’s Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.
It’ll be surprising to see any of the above last the test of time like other classic musicals, but their dominance at the box office suggests that these films are hitting the right note with audiences worldwide. With potential heavy-hitters such as A Star is Born and Mary Poppins Returns due out this year, and with many more slated to release down the line, are we seeing the renaissance of the musical at the movies?
To really consider this, we need to look at the world outside of the confines of one auditorium. Stage musicals are seeing a major comeback themselves and with new talents like Lin-Manuel Miranda, they’re in a very healthy place. Not to mention there’s a new stage adaptation of a classic movie seemingly every other month, so a whole new generation will be clamouring for front row seats if they’re not already (and if they can afford it am I right millennials?!)
The escapist spirit of musicals alone is attractive enough to audiences in this day and age. Nobody can really blame anyone for wanting to spend a few hours away from the constant doom and gloom recently, and given the choice between the two I’d pick a song and dance number any time. It’s not a phenomenon isolated to the 2010s either: the 1980s saw the peak of the Cold War and countless musical movie classics accompanied (Fame, Annie and Little Shop of Horrors to name a few). If you go even further back to the 1960s and when everyone was convinced that nuclear war was on the way, there were so many successful movie musicals that I could be here all day listing them.
Of course there are some areas where music and film have always enjoyed massive success: animation. Excepting a dark period not too long ago where the focus was more on adult comedy and pop culture references, animated features have been fundamentally musical since Snow White and the Seven Dwarves back in the 1930s. Disney seem to have finally remembered what they were about in the turn of this decade, and it paid dividends in a major way back in 2013 with that little feature that made its way everywhere.
Ultimately, the reason we’re seeing musical cinema make such a confident return at the box office can be pinned down to one handy term: counter-programming. As superhero movies continue to dominate every conceivable market, studios are putting greater confidence in a product that caters for tastes outside of the current flavour of the month. At the moment it’s paying off, and while it’s foolish to assume that song and dance numbers will disappear from the big screen at any time, time will tell if the successes we’re seeing currently will go on.
For the sake of fun and originality at the movies, I certainly hope it does.