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Rooster Revue #5 • Of Mermaids and Frogs
A breakdown of "The Little Mermaid" and how "The Muppet Movie" functions as a classic musical.
In today’s issue we take a look at the HBOMax musical catalog, then “movin’ right along” to a look back at The Muppet Movie (1979), and the Department of Cinemusicalization continues the Disney animated musical breakdown with a deep dive “under the sea” of The Little Mermaid.
• Watch the trailer for Annette, a new movie musical from Leos Carax, director of Holy Motors, starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard with original songs from Sparks. It will also open the 74th Cannes Film Festival. [uDiscoverMusic]
• Looks like we’re getting an Evil Stepsisters musical from Disney, penned by the Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo—which you should be very excited about. [Deadline]
• And because we can never have one of something—we’re getting another Evil Stepsister musical (animated) coming to Netflix, with music and lyrics by Garfunkel & Oates. This version is an Asian immigrant story. We’re in. [SlashFilm]
• Every Musical That Has Won An Oscar For Best Picture, Ranked. [CinemaBlend]
• Steaming on YouTube May 16, "Miscast21" features the biggest stars of stage and screen singing songs from roles in which they would not traditionally be cast. [Broadway World]
Our very talented friend Kyle Acheson released an EP, recorded at the piano in the dining room of the family home he transformed into a makeshift studio. “But even with the room prepared, the house did not stop on my account. Little bits of conversations and dishes are peppered throughout in a fun way. Recording was all tracked simultaneously, so the vibe is warm and musical and nostalgic. Like my family, it’s sweet and a little weird.”
[Spotify] [Apple Music]
The Wizard of Oz [HBO Max]
Average Kansan farm dog Toto takes his human on a wild adventure into a magical land where they make friends with weird loners and navigate bizarre political structures. Number 10 on AFI’s greatest films of all time.
Hairspray (2008) [HBO Max]
It’s no secret this is Jeffrey’s favorite movie musical (just see Issue #2).
Singin’ In The Rain [HBO Max]
Number 5 on AFI’s greatest films of all time. Not sure if we’d give it that honor, but we adore this movie, even though the songs are more for entertainment than storytelling.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg [HBO Max]
A masterpiece of musical cinema. The cinematography, the color, the performances all come together into a simple-yet-complicated love story.
Cats [HBO Max]
The universally adored Cats adaptation can now be watched over and over again. Give this masterpiece the attention it doesn’t deserve.
Little Shop of Horrors [HBO Max]
This is one our favorite movie musicals. It’s Ashman + Menken doing what they do best, without the family friendly Disney constraints. Directed by Frank Oz, it oozes with style, has fabulous performances and wild sets, and some of the best puppetry ever put on film.
Rock of Ages [HBO Max]
So atrocious you might die watching it...
42nd Street [HBO Max]
Of Golden Age musicals, Busby Berkeley’s 42nd Street is about as close to the archetype as they come.
Once [HBO Max]
Not technically a musical—but became one on stage. A prime example of what an indie movie musical CAN look like.
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story [HBO Max]
This parody of musical biopics is ingenious. Watch it now before you go smell-blind.
3 (of 4) Versions of A Star Is Born
A story we apparently can’t get enough of. Judy Garland & James Mason in 1954, Streisand and Kristofferson in 1976, and Bradley Cooper & Gaga 2018. If you want to watch the original 1937 Version, it’s on Prime.
The Muppet Movie (1979) - The rainbow-rific road-trip musical biopic of the Muppet's origin story.
Directed by: James Frawley
Written by: Jerry Juhl & Jack Burns
Music & Lyrics: Paul Williams & Kenny Ascher
Reviewed by Mandrews
Let’s talk about The Muppet Movie, which is often overlooked as a serious movie musical. To be very honest, this movie is my childhood and was the gateway drug that got me into my two favorite things in life: Musicals and Puppets.
Coming off the success of The Muppet Show, The Muppet Movie was Jim Henson’s first foray with taking Muppets off the stage and into the world—and it worked like gangbusters. To see if it would even work, they did some hilarious improvised test footage. The biggest challenge that came with bringing the Muppets into the real world was hiding the puppeteers—they built underwater tanks, hollowed out a Studebaker, and puppeteered Kermit as a marionette in the infamous bike scene. Check out these bicycle outtakes if you want to ruin the magic.
Let’s start at the beginning with “Rainbow Connection,” the “I Want” song for all the lovers and dreamers in the world. No this isn’t your grandma’s straightforward “I Want” that says, “I want to go to Hollywood and be a big star”—that’s vapid and shallow. It’s about hope—specifically the hope that what we do as artists will make a difference to anyone, hope that anyone out there is the same kind of weird as you are, hope that there is some magic in the world. “It’s something that I’m supposed to be,” laments Kermit. And over the course of the movie, we watch him become the rainbow connection, not only between the Muppet family, but the audience as well.
“Movin’ Right Along” is the best road trip song in the movie musical world. The economy of storytelling here is great and the visual gags are top notch. It also cements the friendship of Kermit and Fozzie, the core of the Muppet family.
“Never Before And Never Again” is the “Love Song” of a generation. Is “love at first sight” real? This song will make you believe it is. With only a glance, Piggy envisions their relationship leading to marriage. “This love was meant to light the stars, but when we touched, we made it ours.”
Not until Kermit thinks Piggy has abandoned him do we realize how much he really loves her, as he sings, “I Hope That Something Better Comes Along.” This song is heartbreaking because we know something better never will come along. Once you go Pig, you never go back.
When Kermit and Fozzie take refuge in an abandoned Church, Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem sing "Can You Picture That?” which I consider the “Philosophy Song” of the Muppets, challenging our characters to begin their “mental rearrangin’.” It really sums up what the Muppets are more than anything—what Frank Oz describes as affectionate anarchy. It celebrates both friendship and chaos. Unfortunately, Kermit & Fozzie sleep through this song, but I’d like to think the song permeated their dreams.
At our lowest moment in the story, we get my favorite song in the Muppet repertoire—"I'm Going to Go Back There Someday," sung by my favorite character, Gonzo. While Kermit has given up, Gonzo sings this beautiful ballad about hope—hope that he will fly again, but also so much more. “This looks familiar,” starts Gonzo. What is this? Failure methinks. For so many artists, failure is the status quo. But something is different this time: it’s the connections he made along the way. “There's not a word yet for old friends who've just met.” Though their tenure as an ensemble has been short, the power of sharing a dream with others who are the same kind of weird as, is a bond stronger than rubber cement (which is what holds puppets together). As Kermit so eloquently says to Orson Welles, “I have a dream too, but it's about singing and dancing and making people happy. It's the kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with.”
"The Magic Store" finale is the greatest ending to any movie ever made—Yes, I said—and contains a great life affirmation I tell myself in the mirror every morning: “Life's like a movie, write your own ending. Keep believing, keep pretending.”
The Little Mermaid is a stunning achievement in animated musical storytelling that resuscitated a dying animation department and launched what is known as the Disney Animated Renaissance. It’s also a movie that really loses most of its appeal in the second half, which is a testament to the fact that what does work, works astoundingly well.
The movie falls apart for a few reasons. One, she’s lost her voice… in a musical. More importantly, she loses agency in her own story and doesn’t make any choices.
Regardless, it was wildly successful and jump started an amazing run of animated musicals. So let’s stop complaining and start investigating!
NOTE: One thing that makes this movie stand out from the rest of the canon is that the music exists both as an expression of character as well as characteristic. What we mean by that is the musicality of the movie is part of the story as well as the form. Ariel sings her feelings, but also has the most beautiful voice in the sea. Sebastian sings songs, but he is also literally a conductor. Are the characters expressing themselves through song, or literally singing? Eric mentions that Ariel was singing to him on the beach. It obviously doesn’t work against the movie in any way so let’s stop dwelling on it.
Fathoms Below: A “Welcome to the World” song that sets the stage. We are introduced to the story with human characters regaling folktales of Triton and merpeople—setting up the unfamiliar world we’re about to enter through a familiar one and introducing Prince Eric, who will become the object of desire.
Daughters of Triton: A rare “performance” song in the animated musical canon. This cute little song also serves the purpose of establishing the status quo under the sea—sets up the Triton family, establishes that Sebastian is a conductor, tells us Ariel is the youngest and a rebel and that she has the most beautiful voice—which if no one said, we would never know because it’s a musical. And it introduces Ariel’s sisters who serve no purpose to the story whatsoever.
Part of Your World: The “I Want” song of a generation. Something fascinating about this song is that “I Want” songs tend to be private moments in the characters’ life—but Sebastian is present for the song. This enriches the sequence as well as serves the economy of storytelling.
Between the initial song and reprise we have our inciting incident—the storm. What is notable is that as a result, the goal of Ariel changes and the movie becomes strictly a romance.
Part of Your World Reprise: When the reprise comes back, the lyrics have changed as well, from “Part of THAT World” to “Part of YOUR World,” meaning Eric’s world. A line from this song we love: “I don't know when, I don't know how, but I know something's starting right now.” Reminiscent of the opening of Mary Poppins, “Winds in the east, mist comin' in. Like somethin' is brewin' and 'bout to begin.” Or Les Mis, “Jean Valjean is nothing now. Another story must begin.” There’s an excitement that comes along with something beginning, is there not?
After the reprise, we are firmly in Act 2 of the story—she has a new goal and a purpose. She’s caught the Eric bug.
Under the Sea: The Oscar winning song is really the best sequence in this movie, with every conceivable fish pun. This “Persuasion Song” about how great the world under the sea is really a warning about the dangers of the human world, where they “fry you and eat you,” disguised in a high energy calypso romp.
Poor Unfortunate Souls: It’s such a great seduction song and again a huge lesson in pairing visuals with lyrics. Before Ariel even says yes, Ursula starts making the potion. She is both convincing her and making the potion, which is very visual and great storytelling. Maybe the greatest villain song in the Disney canon—but it’s also worth noting this isn’t the villain’s “I Want” song, which is what most Villain songs are. In the Broadway version, Ursula has a great “I Want” song called “I Want The Good Times Back,” aka “Make The Ocean Great Again.”
Les Poissons: It’s hard to classify this song because it serves no purpose, so we’re calling it a “Novelty Song.” The song does pay off the dangers set-up in “Under The Sea,” but the fact that the movie is manufacturing drama for a Sebastian storyline illustrates the lack of stakes in the second half of this movie. Reminiscent of the “Dentist” song from Little Shop of Horrors, this is Ashman writing a character that relishes in the pain and suffering of others—it’s lyrically delicious. It also reminds me of Moana’s “Shiny,” where a villain is singing about his love for shiny things, while also fighting with Moana + Maui. The problem is it does nothing to further the story. If you took this song out, nothing would change.
Kiss the Girl: This is a strange Persuasion Song in the sense that it’s meant to seduce Eric into kissing Ariel but he can’t hear the song, aside from the brief “did I hear something” moment. It’s unclear exactly how this world works, but regardless of mechanics, Eric isn’t hearing the lyrics so Sebastian is singing to the atmosphere to create a romantic mood. It’s a great payoff for Sebastian's conducting abilities and his improvisational abilities to create music outside of the sea. And illustrates again that our heroine does basically nothing in the second half of the movie.
Poor Unfortunate Souls Reprise: This reprise is so short and forgettable we actually forgot to include it on the original breakdown (oops!). The song serves as a “Celebration Song” for Ursula, who’s very confident that her plan is going to work, so of course it won’t.
Part of Your World Reprise 2: This reprise is a trend in Disney movies, to bring back the most important song in the movie but have nobody sing it. It’s a nice bookend and makes you sing the song on your way out of the theater, but isn’t justified.
Stick with us as we dissect Beauty and the Beast in the next issue of Rooster Revue!
Shout out to Brett Ryback and Jeff Luppino-Esposito for fact-checkery and musical theory knowledge.
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Rooster Revue is edited by Matt Andrews, Mary Bonney, and Jeffrey Simon with contributions from the entire team at The Barn.