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April 3, 2024


The movie musical seems to be a thing that goes in and out of popularity pretty often, but at the end of the day, it is admittedly a staunchly niche genre. Just recently, studios admitted to hiding that their musical releases are musicals because it seems to turn off general audiences. Personally, I can attest that many people in my life have proudly proclaimed that they "hate musicals."

That sentiment can't be further from the truth for me. I love musicals. Simply being a musical is enough for the film to pique my interest and excitement. Something about using spontaneous song-and-dance to push the plot forward can elicit more emotions than plain-old dialogue can, and of course, can bring out so much joy. If done correctly, you’ll even get some tasteful toe-tapping.

Musicals have been a staple of cinema for nearly a century, with some of the biggest and most influential films in history being musicals. However, the disrespect of the genre is still very much alive. So, with that in mind, I want to dial the clock back to the 1930s, and talk about my favourite musical from each decade:



Synopsis: Young Dorothy Gale and her dog Toto are swept away by a tornado from their Kansas farm to the magical Land of Oz.


When a legendary film has reached audiences across the spectrum for nearly a century…as The Wizard of Oz has…what other choice do I have for this decade? The film introduced audiences to the magic of technicolor, and The Wizard of Oz's imaginative storytelling and world-building continue to inspire awe in families and cinephiles alike through its Oscar-winning music and the wonderful land of Oz. The Wizard of Oz is, to this day, one of the gold standards, not just for musical and fantasy cinema, but for cinema in general. 



Synopsis: On a train trip West to become a mail-order bride, Susan Bradley meets a cheery crew of young women traveling out to open a Harvey House restaurant at a remote whistle-stop.


While we're on the topic of Judy Garland, let's go from Oz to the Wild West. In 1946, director George Sidney released the upbeat, exciting, and visually grand western musical, The Harvey Girls, which saw Garland as a new addition to a group of waitresses at the Harvey House restaurant. The Harvey Girls is an example of how musicals can elicit profound excitement for the medium just by experiencing the action on screen. The sequence of “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” (the song that won an Oscar, by the way) is a hoot and a holler of lively performances. I know The Harvey Girls isn't the most popular film in the world, but it's truly one that deserves your attention. 



Synopsis: A silent film star falls for a chorus girl just as he and his delusionally jealous screen partner are trying to make the difficult transition to talking pictures in 1920s Hollywood.


Do you know how incredible and influential Singin' in the Rain is? Even if you haven't seen the movie, I'm willing to bet that just reading the title has unlocked an earworm in your brain. Singin' in the Rain is one of the classic Hollywood films that you think couldn't possibly live up to the hype attached to it, and yet, without fail, each viewing feels like the first. For one, the production values are marvelous…and not just by ‘50s standards…but the music also is charming and catchy. On top of that, the film is funny and entertaining. Singin' in the Rain is a masterpiece that is going to remain in the annals of film history for the rest of time.



Synopsis: A young novice is sent by her convent in 1930s Austria to become a governess to the seven children of a widowed naval officer.


The Sound of Music is one of those movies where, if you don't like it, I don't trust you. Yes, it's corny, I admit that - but that's part of the charm. If you want a beautiful, endearing, musical experience that'll leave you smiling through the vast majority of its 3-hour runtime, you’ll find that here. However, and maybe most importantly, there also is a powerful story, one that'll leave you with tears and a sense of warmth. Just the image of Julie Andrews' Maria dancing on the hills to "The Hills Are Alive" is enough to put the biggest smile on one's face. 

1970s: CABARET


Synopsis: A female girlie club entertainer in Weimar Republic-era Berlin romances two men while the Nazi Party rises to power around them.


Cabaret’s musical style helped make it an instant classic, and rightfully so. It’s stylish, creative, and irresistible right from the jump. So irresistible, in fact, that director Bob Fosse won Best Director at the Oscars that year over Francis Ford Coppola’s work on The Godfather. Its musical prowess alone is more than enough to make Cabaret something special, but it's what lurks under the surface of the glitz and glamour that gives Cabaret an unexpected weight. It deals with socially powerful themes that are as relevant today as they were in 1972. So, come to the Cabaret, come hear the music play.



Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Sarah must solve a labyrinth to rescue her baby brother when he is taken by the Goblin King.


I certainly own that my undying love for David Bowie may have played a part in my selection of Labyrinth, but you know what? Labyrinth is a hell of a good time, either way. It's Jim Henson's creativity and fun times galore, with a magical adventure and kick-ass soundtrack, courtesy of Bowie, who just quite simply rocks in this movie. Henson's use of puppetry to create something very intriguing on a visual level (not always successful, granted) makes the occasional musical sequence even more visually striking. Plus, the production design makes the new world that Jennifer Connelly's Sarah must venture through to save her brother come alive. Labyrinth is one of those movies where the pros outweigh the cons in a way that makes the movie just so enjoyable. 



Synopsis: Lion prince Simba and his father are targeted by his bitter uncle, who wants to ascend the throne himself.


I would be remiss if I didn't mention at least one of Disney's masterpieces from its renaissance era. I don't think I'm saying anything groundbreaking when I say that The Lion King stands head-and-shoulders over its contemporaries. The beginning scene sets the stage for a true musical triumph, as we're introduced to the world of Pride Rock with a deafening bang. The rest of the film is a funny and emotionally stirring animated adventure featuring some of Disney's most iconic music, courtesy of Hans Zimmer and Elton John. Animation can do so much that live-action can't, and if you want any more proof of that, look no further than The Lion King

2000s: CHICAGO


Synopsis: Two death-row murderesses develop a fierce rivalry while competing for publicity, celebrity, and a sleazy lawyer's attention.


This Best Picture-winning masterclass of filmmaking is one of those films that needs to be seen to be believed. Borrowing similar styles of musical sequences from Cabaret, Chicago introduced a new generation of moviegoers to an evocative, raw, and sexy style of musical storytelling, where the music isn't just there to make your toes tap but to enhance the story and give a new perspective from its characters' headspace. Chicago is a gritty crime thriller wrapped in a pretty package that warns of the dangers of our desire for fame, and I can't think of a better way for this message to be presented if the goal was to be both fun and effective. 

2010s: LA LA LAND


Synopsis: While navigating their careers in Los Angeles, a pianist and an actress fall in love while attempting to reconcile their aspirations for the future.


Now it's time for me to gush about my absolute favourite musical of all time. La La Land is the quintessential modern musical, one that's both a tribute to what is considered the golden era of cinema and one that's so strikingly contemporary. Featuring ear-catching music and astoundingly choreographed sequences that are directed with such an incredible creative hand by Damien Chazelle, this film (in what can be described as a reverse Chicago) is a love letter to the dreamers who risk everything to make their insane dreams come true, “foolish as they may seem.” With iconic performances from Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, La La Land is a surefire modern-day classic.  



Synopsis: An exploration of the forbidden love and the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds.


Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’ 1961 Best Picture-winning West Side Story is considered one of the genre's finest accomplishments, but while I loved the film, I certainly have my quarrels with it. So, how does one update a classic of such high regard? Enter the master, director Steven Spielberg. Fixing just about every issue I had with the original, Spielberg's West Side Story is made with love and nuance, not to mention so much energy and power in its scenery and choreography that it's hard not to get so sucked into a familiar story that just feels so fresh.

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