Full confession, I’m not too fond of musicals as a film genre. Just as ice cream and hot sauce are delicious in isolation but less so when blended, people dancing around and singing a six-minute song immediately after someone’s been murdered ruins my suspension of disbelief during a movie. In my opinion, singing should be reserved for music videos and Spotify, not cinema. However, while I am well aware my opinion may be anathema to some, I also know many agree with me when their significant other isn’t dragging them to see the newest musical starring Zac Efron. For those like me, who are not great fans of the musical genre of film, here are five movies I appreciate and think you will too, despite their musical additions.
Singing in the Rain (1952)
Why? It has a unique, fun premise that penetrated even my cold dead heart.
The basic plot of Singing in the Rain involves a movie studio in the 1930s struggling to transition to sound because its actors have never had to speak before. In the ensuing chaos, a silent film star falls in love with a girl brought in to provide voiceover for his famous costar, whose own voice is too annoying to be used. Hijinks ensue, not least due to the silent movie star’s sarcastic sidekick, who is tasked with easing his buddy’s transition to speaking roles by pulling him back to his music hall roots.
The hijinks that erupt amongst the dysfunctional characters are fun to watch, as are the difficulties in teaching old dogs new tricks when those new tricks involving sound in film are something we take for granted today. Some of the songs and choreography are also enjoyable, though there is one towards the end which goes on for too long. If you like film history, sappy 1950s-era love stories, and zany characters, this one may be worth sitting through.
Why? Because it’s a modern classic, and watching it may appease your theater friends.
Hamilton tells the fascinating story of one of the most forgotten founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton. It does a great job of highlighting his successes and mistakes while humanizing the founding fathers. Though the basic plot could be easily summarized by singing, “He’s an immigrant who’s great with money, women, writing, but not so good at fighting. He’s Hamilton!” It builds on these incidents in his life powerfully.
Here the music is used spectacularly, and the actors do a phenomenal job of bringing characters from hundreds of years ago to life. Though one could always just listen to the soundtrack, the spectacle of choreography and effects add significantly to the experience. Though my favorite songs were those sung by the side characters like “Wait for It” and “Satisfied”, the production does prove why a significant percentage of my drama friends have dreamt of embodying Lin-Manuel Miranda. This play and its filmed version are one of the most musical musicals I’ve seen, but there is so much here that it eventually won me over
Why? It has a low ratio of music to plot and characters.
Other than my low opinion of Les Misérables, I’m a reluctant sucker for historical musicals. 1776 has been listed as an inspiration for Hamilton because it tells the story of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in a humorous and human way. It tears down many mythic views about the founding fathers and portrays them as scared, angry, and confused individuals trying to do the right thing in a difficult time.
The reason I like this one is the exact opposite reason I tolerate Hamilton. 1776 is the least musically bent musical I have encountered. The movie is propelled by outstanding performances by the actors, great dialogue, and a comedic take on a pivotal historical moment. Still, the songs add to the experience, and many are catchy in their own way. If you really can’t stand musicals but love history, comedy, or great characters, then this is one you might get a kick out of.
White Christmas (1954)
Why? Because even I am slightly receptive to Christmas cheer.
It’s a tale as old as time, a girl meets a guy, and the girl’s sister and the guy’s best friend try to play matchmaker. The plot is sickly sweet in a way only a Christmas story can get away with. However, there is a lot of heart and humor as two veterans try to throw a surprise party for their retired and lonely superior officer while battling with their own raging hormones. Since all the characters are entertainers, the plot manages to keep their random bursts of musical madness from breaking the tone too egregiously.
Regardless of your personal views, it is a Christmas classic for a reason, and it’s surprisingly memorable. With acting better than modern Hallmark movies and several songs that are still on the radio, it is a tolerable option when forced to watch a holiday movie. White Christmas is funny, catchy, heartwarming, and, unlike so many other musicals I’ve seen, not boring.
Nearly Any Disney Movie (1937-To Infinity)
Why? I shouldn’t have to explain this; we’ve all been there.
Whether it’s nostalgia or all the bright flashing colors that keep my sleep-deprived brain happy, I can’t hate Disney movies. The vast majority of Disney films have a musical element, whether Sleeping Beauty or Encanto. Yet, somehow they are almost all enjoyable as well. They made my childhood complete; even now, as a grumpy adult, I still enjoy rocking out to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. As several modern remakes have discovered, removing the music actually hurts these timeless tales and makes them less appealing to the general public. There is so much variety of characters and songs in a franchise that has lasted for nearly a century that everyone is bound to find something enjoyable somewhere. The magic and whimsical nature of these films make great use of their songs, and if I’m willing to accept talking lions and frogs, I can’t hate them for singing.
My only exception to this rule is Frozen, and I’ve earned the right to hate it. Frozen is the favorite film of many cousins I had to babysit, and I now begin twitching uncontrollably whenever I am exposed to anything related to that horrific film. That is the most overblown soundtrack, and I wish everyone would just let it go.
This concludes my short list of exceptions to my personal rule of avoiding musicals at all costs. Ultimately, singing and choreography are part of a film’s spectacle, like pyrotechnics or over-the-top action sequences. While I personally prefer Michael Bay explosion fests to attractive actors singing off-key, I know that many people in my life love musicals and it is impossible to avoid them. If that is the case for you as well, this emergency list of movies might come in handy the next time someone suggests the musical film genre for your next movie night!