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'La La Land,' 'Beauty and the Beast' may have revived musical movies

Posted May 9

Earlier this year, my wife and I went to a couple of musical movies that played in the wake of “La La Land,” whose huge, and unexpected, success — both at the box office and with Oscar wins — naturally had pundits suggesting that the genre had been officially resurrected and that there’d be a lot more musicals on the way.

Of course, the two my wife and I saw were not new: “Carousel” (1956) on Jan. 11 and “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952) on Jan. 18, vintage revivals that were shown at local Cinemark multiplexes.

But there was a new one, sort of, when “Beauty and the Beast” opened in March. And it opened big.

Of course, that’s a remake of a 1991 cartoon, so I’m not sure that counts.

And before that, in April, there was “Rock Dog” — yes, a cartoon. So I’m not sure that counts, either. Not even if it’s made into a live-action musical 25 years from now.

In fact, for our purposes here, let’s just agree to exclude cartoons.

If the traditional musical — that is, movies in which characters impulsively break into song and dance, and an orchestra swells from out of nowhere — really has been resurrected as a viable genre, let’s just stick to the real deal. Like “La La Land.”

So here comes summer.

And I see on imdb.com that we have lots of comic books, cartoons, fantasies, sequels and other franchise features on the way: “Alien: Covenant,” “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” “Wonder Woman,” “Cars 3,” “Transformers: The Last Light,” “Despicable Me 3,” “Amityville: The Awakening,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” “War for the Planet of the Apes,” “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” “Annabelle: Creation,” “The Lego Ninjago Movie,” “The Nut Job 2: Nutty By Nature.”

And the requisite remakes, of both movies and TV shows: “Baywatch,” “The Mummy,” “My Cousin Rachel,” “The Beguiled.”

But where are the musicals?

This seems a pertinent query, since a lot of us associate summertime viewing with musical movies.

Years ago, when the Avalon Theater was a venue exclusively dedicated to vintage movies, the programming schedule deliberately filled the summer months with musicals, and business was always booming.

Especially since fans of the genre weren’t getting any kind of steady diet of first-run theatrical movie musicals anymore.

Even into the 1990s we saw nothing particularly notable — Woody Allen’s “Everyone Says I Love You,” Jennifer Lopez in the biographical film “Selena,” the sequel “Blues Brothers 2000.” But none that set the genre on fire.

In the 2000s, things began to look up with the innovative “Moulin Rouge!” in 2001, followed in 2002 by the adaptation of the Broadway hit “Chicago,” along with such later successes as “School of Rock” (2003), “Dreamgirls” (2006), “Hairspray” (2007) and “Mamma Mia!” (2008).

With those hits came a lot of promises of more musicals to come. But it only takes a few less-than-stellar box-office results to keep studios at arm’s length, especially for such an expensive genre. And too many others underperformed, including the highly anticipated film versions of the Broadway hits “Phantom of the Opera” (2004), “The Producers” (2005) and “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (2007).

But the 2010s may have helped musicals turn a corner, thanks to “Pitch Perfect” (2012) and “Pitch Perfect 2” (2015) and especially last year’s “La La Land” and this year’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

As a result, quite a few musicals are scheduled for the next couple of years.

In 2017 (again, according to imdb.com) we can expect “All Eyez On Me” (June 22), a rap-music biography of Tupac Shakur; Anna Kendrick returning for the sequel “Pitch Perfect 3” (Dec. 22); “The Greatest Showman” (Dec. 25), with Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum, and “Hello Again” (no scheduled date), an episodic story of 10 romances over 10 decades of the 20th century, with Audra McDonald.

And further down the road, in 2018, we should see yet another version of “A Star Is Born,” directed by and starring Bradley Cooper; “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a biography of Freddie Mercury, frontman for the 1970s/’80s progressive-rock band Queen; the Disney sequel “Mary Poppins Returns,” with Emily Blunt taking over for Julie Andrews; Disney’s live-action remake of “The Lion King,” and an adaptation of the Broadway smash “Wicked,” a reworking of “The Wizard of Oz.”

All of which is encouraging. But unless a bunch more show up in between these officially announced titles, it still seems like a rather thin selection to me.

A few annual entries in a particular genre do not a revival make.

If you doubt that, just look to what’s happened with Westerns.

Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." He also writes at www.hicksflicks.com and can be contacted at hicks@deseretnews.com.

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