Why Are the Trailers For Musicals Hiding the Fact That They’re Musicals?
My daughters go through TV phases. They narrow in on one particular show until they have binged every episode, then rewatched every episode, then memorized every episode, at which point if some other series gets their attention, they may elect to start that process over again with this new object of fixation. In the last few years, we’ve had Paw Patrol phases, we’ve had Bluey phases, we’ve had Power Rangers phases, we’ve had Barbie phases, and as I’m writing these words I am just now realizing I’m a terrible father who lets his kids watch way too much television.
One of my kids’ most intense TV phases hit about two years ago, when they discovered a French animated series called Miraculous about a girl superhero named Ladybug and her super-powered friends. Over a period of several months, they watched well over 100 episodes of Miraculous, while filling up their playroom with Ladybug toys and dress-up sets.
Eventually they moved on to other things, as they always inevitably do, but they were very excited when I showed them the trailer for Miraculous: Ladybug & Cat Noir, The Movie. And no wonder; the trailer makes it look like a better-animated version of the TV series they loved.
READ MORE: The Best Movie Musicals of the 21st Century
A few weeks later, the film arrived on Netflix. My girls were ready. The Saturday morning after its streaming premiere they plopped down in front of the television for a new Ladybug adventure.
What they saw ... confused them.
Yes, the Miraculous film was still about the exploits of Ladybug and her friends, including the roguish handsome Cat Noir. But the movie was also something the trailers never even hinted at: A full-blown musical.
My daughters weren’t necessarily upset, and they were happy to have new Miraculous content to watch for the first time in a while. But about 20 minutes in, my youngest daughter walked over to me and whispered “Dad, why are they singing so much?”
It was a fair question; the Miraculous TV series was definitely not a musical. I had a different question on my mind: If the Miraculous movie was a musical, why didn’t the characters sing in the trailer? And why are so many trailers for musicals lately doing the same thing: Hiding their true nature, and seemingly a huge selling point?
For another recent example, take a look at the trailers for Wonka. They make it look like a sweet comic fable for kids — which it is. It is also a full-on musical, which is barely alluded to except when Hugh Grant’s Oompa Loompa reprises the famous song from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. And because Grant’s song is a callback to the earlier movie, you might assume that it’s in there as an Easter egg, not as some grand indication that Wonka is a musical.
I’m also surprised how little the trailer for The Color Purple emphasizes the fact that it is based on a popular (and Tony Award-winning) Broadway musical. Yes, in one scene, the movie’s trailer shows Taraji P. Henson’s Shug Avery singing to a crowd at a juke joint. But that’s the only character who sings onscreen; if you’re not familiar with the musical, you could be convinced this new remake simply includes a scene with some singing.
Personally if I had Fantasia Barrino — an American Idol winner and platinum selling recording artist — in my movie, and in my movie she sings a lot of songs, I would let potential customers know that fact. This Color Purple ad does not. The trailer does not even call it The Color Purple: The Musical. Instead, title cards refer to it as “A Bold New Take on the Beloved Classic.” What makes it bold and new? Well, that’s a little fuzzy.
The Color Purple is not the only Broadway musical to get an upcoming movie adaptation with a trailer that obfuscates its musical elements. Early next year you’ll be able to watch a new Mean Girls in theaters. The trailer for the film makes it look like a fairly straightforward remake and update of the concept. Only the presence of a musical note in the “A” of the title indicates that this is actually an adaptation of the Mean Girls stage show. No one sings in this trailer at all.
Even trailers for sequels to hit musicals do this. Check out the trailer for Disenchanted, the long-awaited follow-up to Enchanted, one of Disney’s most popular live-action musicals ever. The sequel includes a whole bunch of songs by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, who contributed the well-known music to Enchanted like “Happy Working Song” and “That’s How You Know.” Precisely zero of their new tunes are featured in the official Disenchanted trailer.
Disney played a similar sleight of hand game with Frozen II, the sequel to the enormously popular animated musical Frozen. The first movie grossed $1.28 billion and featured an Academy Award winning song that became the earworm to end all children’s earworms. In two different officials trailers, there isn’t a single musical number from the sequel’s soundtrack, which included all-new earworms to delight children and drive their parents crazy. (I say this from experience. My kids still sing “Into the Unkonwn” sometimes.)
Miraculous is not even the only recent Netflix musical with no music in its trailer. Did you know Adam Sandler’s new animated comedy Leo is a musical? If you’ve only seen the movie’s trailer, you might not. It features the ’80s tune “Take Me Home Tonight,” instead of one the film’s multiple original songs.
This may not seem like a lot of trailers, but Hollywood doesn’t make that many musicals these days, and this comprises a pretty hefty percentage of the recent ones. And they all share a similarly muted approach to music in their advertising.
Compare those trailers with the one from the 1950s for Singin’ in the Rain. It begins with a massive soundstage filled with dancers and a title card that reads “The Big, BIG Musical Show of the Year!” And then it goes right into a clip of the three leads singing the title song. After some spoken dialogue establishing the movie’s premise, most of the trailer is devoted to showing you a little bit of all the songs in the film, “Beautiful Girl,” “You Were Meant For Me,” “Dreaming of You,” “You Are My Lucky Star,” and on and on.
Obviously that is a very old trailer for a very old film. But take a look at the trailer for Chicago from 2002. It opens with 20 seconds of dance moves, followed by Catherine Zeta-Jones singing “All That Jazz.” This movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture and grossed more than $300 million worldwide.
Or how about La La Land from just a few years ago? Its teaser opens with Ryan Gosling crooning “City of Stars” and then proceeds through highlights of the various musical numbers.
I must assume that someone in a corporate boardroom somewhere — or perhaps multiple someones in multiple boardrooms, because this is happening at multiple distributors simultaneously — has determined that audiences don’t consider musical numbers to be a selling point for a movie these days. (La La Land grossed $472 million worldwide, by the way.) Which, of course, raises another question: If studios don’t want to tell potential customers that a movie is a musical because they think audiences might not see it as a result… why are they making musicals in the first place? It would seem there is a rather large disconnect between the people who make the movies and the people who market the movies that needs to be resolved. It should not feel so miraculous when a movie musical comes out and the selling point is ... it is a movie musical.
I personally love musicals and I’m always happy to see a good one. But if the studios don’t believe mass audiences want them, why are they producing so many and then trying to trick people into seeing them with misleading trailers? If it’s true that viewers don’t want musicals — a theory I’m not sure I buy, but let’s accept it for the moment — then all you’re doing is selling people tickets to something that will probably disappoint their expectations. You’re setting your own movies up for failure. Just ask my kids. Unlike the Miraculous series, which they watched on an endless loop for months, they haven’t asked me to rewatch the Miraculous movie a single time.