MadameAce has talked about a Disney animated feature-turned-musical (Beauty and the Beast) before in this segment, but I want to look at them more as a whole. Now, as both a performer and a tech person, I have enormous respect for the amount of work it takes to put on a musical like The Lion King or The Little Mermaid. Disney has used any number of methods to make theoretically impossible things (a cast of animals, talking furniture, setting the show underwater) happen on stage. And it’s always technically astounding.
But I have a possibly unpopular opinion: I think the amazing technicality of these productions lessens the impact of the story. Disney movies immerse you in their world conversely, when I see a Disney musical, I’m less moved by the story because I’m too busy being awed by the girl wearing a giraffe puppet on her head and wow that must be hard and it’s really impressive but it takes away from the story. (This, of course, was turned on its head for me when I saw The Little Mermaid musical, since Ariel and her story are annoying and it was more fun to just gawk at the beautiful costumes and scenery and technical magic than pay attention to the whiny sixteen-year-old who needs a sassy gay friend.)
Disney is certainly not the only producer of musicals to fall into this problem, (here’s looking at you, Seussical, Shrek, Spiderman: Turn off the Dark, et al…) but I think his failure on their part is the most tragic. Disney movies, for all that they are often problematic from a feminist perspective, are still known for telling classic stories in a way that resonates with people of all ages. The musicals don’t do it for me in the same way at all.
And this problem looks to be continuing into the future of Disney’s productions: They apparently are in talks to do a Dumbo musical (so flying AND an animal cast), an Aladdin musical (flying, talking animals, and magic), a Jungle Book musical (more talking animals), and a Hunchback of Notre Dame musical, which… might be okay, actually, except for the talking gargoyles. I’m not saying I won’t see these musicals—especially Aladdin and Hunchback are favorites of mine—but something like Dumbo? The touching and, yes, depressing as nut story behind this movie is going to be completely overshadowed by making a person who is in some magical way an elephant fly around the stage.
What are your thoughts about Disney’s musicals, readers dear?