Recently, my best friend and I were reminiscing about just how many movie musicals we watched in our high school years. This makes some sense, as I am a theater kid to my core. Beyond that, though, the early 2000’s created a mini boom in the genre.
I’ve decided to take a musical tour down memory lane, revisiting some of the movie musicals I dug in adolescence to see how well they hold up. Come along with me, as I reminisce and assign an incredibly scientific score to each movie!
Moulin Rouge (2001)
My Score: 10/10
This is the one to beat for me. Moulin Rouge is the film we can directly credit for the numerous other musical movies of the 2000’s. And if you’re wondering whether it’s still good, the answer is a resounding YES.
What makes this movie musical so successful? At the time of its release, a great deal of its success could be attributed to its daring creativity, original ideas, and the total shock that a cinematic jukebox musical could be so entertaining in the new millennium.
All of those factors are still true, but as I compare Moulin Rouge to all the films that came afterwards and tried to capitalize on its success, one major quality contributes to its perfect score.
Moulin Rouge’s use of color, sound, music and drama capture what it’s like to sit in a theater and watch a live musical. The frenetic energy, fast-cuts that pivot your attention, and overwhelming earnestness every time characters burst into song creates the adrenaline rush that you might get from an actual night watching a stage show.
On the flip side, movies of the 2000’s that tried to capture the magic of actual existing Broadway shows often failed, because the straightforward re-telling of the musical format didn’t accurately use film language to connect (but more on that in a bit…)
So yes. I will love Moulin Rouge until my dying day. 😉
My Score: 6/10
Remember that thing I just said above? That trying to recapture the look and feel of a Broadway show doesn’t always connect via film language? Chicago is a perfect example of that!
Chicago’s cinematography and color palette make it feel bland and grey, like the prison life and era that it’s trying to capture. Cinematically, this makes perfect sense! However, that means that larger-than-life numbers like Roxie’s big song and Catherine Zeta Jones’ “I Can’t Do It Alone” lack a certain…shall I say…razzle dazzle.
That said, Chicago still manages to pull off some of its stage-to-screen tricks handily. My adolescent brain was transfixed by the Cell Block Tango, and it’s one of the main numbers that nails the “this is a real performance” vibe that Moulin Rouge pulled off so well.
Plus, while the performances are varied, I’m always particularly charmed by Queen Latifah and Catherine Zeta-Jones!
The Phantom of the Opera (2003)
My Score: 3/10
First, a quick story: When this movie came out, a huge snowstorm hit my hometown of Cincinnati. AND YET I had been waiting for this movie for what seemed like forever, and got my parents to agree to take me to the only movie theater showing it in town…45 minutes away.
I would like to publicly apologize to my parents in this internet space now for making them risk life and limb to see this very crappy movie. I was delighted at the time, but it is not good, gang.
So, why would I give a movie adaptation of one of my all-time favorite musicals an abysmal 3 stars? It has nothing to do with my fandom, or insisting that they didn’t get my favorite part right.
It has everything to do with the weird camera choices, lack of understanding of what makes the musical compelling in the first place, and the complete lack of vocal talent by the titular character.
For more detail on why this film musical doesn’t work well, I HIGHLY recommend Lindsay Ellis’s Youtube video “Joel Schumacher’s Phantom of the Opera: A Video Essay.”
My Score: 8.5/10
I’m kind of amazed at how much I’m still able to love Hairspray. While there are some issues (The John Travolta casting will always raise eyebrows, and some of the edgy jokes don’t age as well a decade later), Hairspray remains one of my favorite movies from this era of musicals.
A great deal of Hairspray’s success comes from the way it matches its tone to its purpose: this is not a grab at Oscar prestige the way Chicago was. Hairspray seems to be designed to be exactly what it is: a movie that’s fun, upbeat, and perfect for catching on Freeform while you’re looking for something to watch on a Sunday afternoon.
The score I gave Hairspray is also pretty high because, unlike many other movie musicals from this era, most of its cast is actually pretty gifted in the singing and dancing department! And let us all remember—you can’t stop the beat!
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
My Score: 7/10
Honesty time: I was ready to haaaaate revisiting this movie. I’ve grown tired of Tim Burton’s aesthetic over the years, and Johnny Depp isn’t exactly high on my “celebs I love” list anymore.
And yet…I couldn’t hate this adaptation. Where Chicago’s bland palette made its performances feel flat and small, the Tim Burton “Look I filmed this using an old timey tintype” vibe actually heightened my experience of this movie.
While the main cast isn’t exactly made up of the best singers, they stumble through pretty well. And the minimalist sensibilities that make Sweeney Todd work onstage also make it adaptable to whatever Tim Burton needed it to be for his film.
It’s far from my favorite movie musical, but I have to admit that Sweeney Todd holds up way better than many of its peers in the movie musical world of the 2000’s!
So, do you have any favorite musical movies from the early 2000’s that I missed? Any scores you wildly agree with or disagree with? Let us know, and perhaps you can enjoy your own musical tour down memory lane soon!