7 Disney Movies That Belong on Broadway
Frozen is coming to the St. James Theatre, but there are other films locked away in the Disney vault that belong on the Great White Way.
Like the rest of America, we're excited for the arrival of Frozen on Broadway. Based on the blockbuster 2013 movie, Frozen is just the latest in a series of Disney animated features adapted for the Broadway stage. The first was Beauty and the Beast in 1994, while The Lion King, in 1997, has undoubtedly been the most successful. Disney has drawn heavily from its post-1989 catalogue in its theatrical pursuits, a natural choice since the scores for many of those films were written by Broadway composers. The studio produced memorable and highly theatrical films before its '90s renaissance, though. Here is our list of seven of them that belong on the Broadway stage.
The gold standard of traumatizing childhood films, Bambi has the makings of a great stage drama: A cuddly heir apparent navigates love and loss with the help of his merry band of friends — it's practically Shakespearean! That's why we would like to nominate director Lear deBessonet, who wowed us with her Shakespeare in the Park Midsummer, to helm Bambi on Broadway. The original score by Frank Churchill and Ed Plumb would require significant reworking and augmentation, but that's nothing Tom Kitt couldn't handle. He seamlessly orchestrated the work of no fewer than 17 different composers for SpongeBob SquarePants. If Broadway has room for SpongeBob, surely it can squeeze in Bambi.
Disney's 1960 film about an unfailingly optimistic 12-year-old girl sent to live with her wealthy spinster aunt has plenty of Broadway potential. With the right composer (say, Sara Bareilles), it could be the next Annie. Hayley Mills, who played Pollyanna in the film and is currently starring off-Broadway in Party Face, would be an excellent choice for Aunt Polly, doubtlessly thrilling generations of Disney fans. And really, the story couldn't be timelier: In 2018, America needs to relearn how to play the glad game.
3. The Rescuers
The heroine of this 1977 animated feature isn't a princess, but a frightened yet resourceful orphan girl named Penny who needs a little help. That help comes in the form of two adorable mice from the Rescue Aid Society, a kind of rodent U.N. Like Bambi, the soundtrack is mostly underscoring rather than sung by the characters, so this gives the creative team the option to write a new score of Cajun music to fit the Devil's Bayou location. The Rescuers also benefits from a truly grotesque villain in Madame Medusa, a role we can imagine a number of Broadway performers sinking their teeth into.
4. Pete's Dragon
The title character of this 1977 live-action film with animation is also an orphan, but he has an invisible pet dragon to protect him. Complete with a politically prescient mountebank villain and the best torch song to ever come out of a Disney film, Pete's Dragon easily lends itself to Broadway. The integration of animation and live-action has long been a Disney specialty, and it would present unique challenges for the stage. But get it right and it's sure to be money money money by the pound.
This would instantly become Disney's most high-minded Broadway offering ever, but with a score by Bach, Tchaikovsky, and Beethoven, it would be hard to beat in the music department. We envision this as more of a staged concert featuring a full symphony orchestra, but heavy on dance and theatrical design. It would be a prime opportunity for the mouse to collaborate with a smaller company, perhaps Ensemble for the Romantic Century, which has had great success producing theatrical concerts off-Broadway. Bonus points if they bring in Fantasia Barrino to perform "Ave Maria."
6. The Fox and the Hound
A heartbreaking and hopeful meditation on tribalism told through the unlikely friendship of two cuddly animals, this reliable tearjerker is one of the most undervalued animated features in the Disney canon. Its story of growing up and coping with the loss of a childhood friendship is something that almost anyone can relate to, making The Fox and the Hound especially moving for adults. The role of Big Mama the kindly owl was voiced by Tony winner Pearl Bailey, and her song, "Best of Friends'' would sound great on a Broadway stage.
7. Return to Oz
An unmitigated flop when it debuted in 1985, this darkly surreal adventure film based on the work of L. Frank Baum has garnered a cult following over the years, especially among the Disney Channel generation. We can just imagine the unprecedented puppetry, modern dance, and pyrotechnics that would make up this Disney spectacular. If Wicked is any indication, Oz-mania is still alive and well and living on Broadway.