Renee Rapp, Avantika Vandanapu, and Bebe Wood in 'Mean Girls'

Why Are Modern Movie Musicals Ashamed To Be Musicals?

The holiday season brings with it big movies of all kinds, from bombastic blockbusters to family-friendly films and awards-bait fare. Another big genre this time of year is the musical movie—not that you’d know it from looking at recent trailers.

Recommended Videos

There’s something so warm and cozy about a musical, especially around the holidays. Movies like La La Land and Mary Poppins Returns came out just in time to warm our hearts during the colder season, and they still bring cheer to the holiday season even when the subject matter is on the darker side, like Les Miserables and Chicago.

Most years, there’s usually only one major movie musical released around the holiday season, but this year there are two: Wonka on December 15 and The Color Purple on December 25—plus there’s also the Mean Girls musical film a few weeks later on January 12. But if you didn’t realize these upcoming movies were musicals, you’d be forgiven for that, because the marketing for all three of them has downplayed this aspect to one degree or another.

Most trailers for movie musicals start with a song right away, or at least include a few lines of one before cutting to the story’s setup. From there, we typically get snippets of a couple more songs, usually a fast and fun number in the middle and then a power ballad or huge spectacle song at the end. (In the case of films adapting musicals that already exist, it’ll usually be the show’s “signature song.”) But with these upcoming features, we’re lucky to get a single song in a trailer.

The Wonka trailers feature (mostly instrumental) music from the 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but it seems to be mainly to connect this film to that one and establish that Wonka is a prequel to that version of the story specifically, as opposed to the original 1964 book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or the 2005 movie of the same name. There isn’t much if any indication that the movie will have original songs in the trailers, but set footage and reviews have confirmed it indeed will, and the studio has confirmed Neil Hannon as the film’s songwriter.

The Color Purple is an adaptation of the Broadway musical version of the story (which itself was adapted from Alice Walker’s 1982 novel) and will even see former American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino reprise her role as Celie Harris-Johnson from the Broadway show.

The first trailer that was released features Barrino singing the show’s signature song, “I’m Here,” throughout, though very little footage of the number or any other musical moments from the film is actually shown on screen. The second trailer didn’t include any song from the show until about halfway through, with Taraji P. Henson singing “Push Da Button.” There are some quick shots at the end of various dance numbers but one could easily walk away with the impression that the scene in which her Henson’s character performs on stage is the only moment in the movie to feature a musical number.

The marketing for Mean Girls, however, is by far the biggest offender here. The initial trailer has zero indication of the movie being a musical. No one sings and even the background music is Olivia Rodrigo’s “get him back!” rather than anything from the Mean Girls stage musical. The absence of this element makes the project look like a random remake of the Mean Girls movie and leaves out the reason this new film is being made in the first place.

The second trailer is an improvement, but only a slight one. Titled “Regina’s Version” it starts off with Reneé Rapp (who played Regina on Broadway as well) singing a line from one of the musical’s songs, which follows the template for a typical “movie musical trailer” as described above. Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there, as the trailer then proceeds to have no more singing at all, though the background music for this one is at least an instrumental rendition of a song from the show.

All of this has led to a considerable amount of backlash for this Mean Girls movie, with the creators and actors getting hate for being the “Wal-Mart versions” of the 2004 film’s cast (ironically, a recent Wal-Mart ad featuring several members of said cast has received a much more positive response). Reneé Rapp and the others were cast primarily for their musical talents, but the trailers don’t highlight this and by omitting it, they’re essentially throwing them to the “why does this exist?” wolves of the internet. Wonka at least has the prequel aspect out on full display to justify its existence to the masses, but it’s still disappointing the marketing hasn’t emphasized the original music more.

I don’t really have any insight as to why these marketing teams are downplaying the musical aspect of these films. Movie musicals tend to do well around the holidays, the talent in these movies is excellent, and in the case of The Color Purple, which looks to be a potential awards season contender, quite a few musicals have done well in the past when it comes to accolades like Oscars and Golden Globes. Or maybe musicals just aren’t considered “cool” anymore, what with the trend of making fun of “theatre kids” and deeming them “cringey” being a popular joke around the internet.

Whatever the reason, it’s certainly disappointing that the musical talents of not only the cast, but those writing and producing the songs in these movies, aren’t being highlighted. Hopefully the prevalence of music in these movies ends up being a pleasant surprise for the uninitiated, and not a case of the studios marketing these films (two of which have already been screened and received largely positive feedback) to the wrong audience.

(featured image: Paramount Pictures)

The Mary Sue is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more about our Affiliate Policy
Image of Julia Delbel
Julia Delbel
Julia Delbel (she/her) is a contributing writer at The Mary Sue and has been doing freelance entertainment coverage for five years. She loves diving into film, television, and theater, especially Marvel, DC Disney, and animated content, particularly taking a hard look at their character development, storyline weaving, and place in the pop culture pantheon.