9 Animated Movies for the Stage
With the ''Frozen'' musical on its way, we set our sights on 9 more stage-ready animated films.
Frozen is on its way to Broadway, where it will join the ranks of cartoon-to-musical adaptations like The Lion King, Aladdin, and Anastasia. And if those productions have taught us anything, it's that Broadway audiences love to see their animated heroes brought to life onstage. So as we await Elsa and Anna's first foray onto the Great White Way, we've turned our attention to the other movies of our childhood (and adulthood) that we'd love to see go from cartoon to real (stage) life.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
If there's one thing Broadway loves, it's aligning shows with American holidays. Just ask Holiday Inn, A Christmas Story, and Elf the Musical – all of which hit Broadway during the Yuletide season in just the last five years — not to mention Misery, Stephen King's thriller-romance (?), which managed to open just before Halloween and close on Valentine's Day of last year. So with two of our biggest holidays represented, The Nightmare Before Christmas is Broadway catnip. Plus, the movie already features a collection of Danny Elfman's spirited and off-kilter tunes, just waiting for Broadway's quirkiest singers (we've got our eyes on Kimiko Glenn and Barrett Wilbert Weed) to give them the musical-theater treatment.
South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
With an iconic animated figure like SpongeBob SquarePants making his Broadway debut this winter, the time has come for The Book of Mormon scribes Trey Parker and Matt Stone to finally allow Stan, Kenny, Kyle, and Cartman to take the stage. While 1999's South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut may seem a little dated now, given it was set during Bill Clinton's presidency, and the subject matter — the United States waging war against Canada for corrupting local youth (while we're currently singing the praises of Canadians on Broadway in Come From Away), it's still a fun romp that will remind us of a more innocent and playful time. The movie itself is firmly rooted in the legacy and history of musical theater, with songs by Parker and Marc Shaiman that lovingly parody iconic shows like Les Miz and Oklahoma! If Broadway isn't the destination for South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, at least give us a concert version at Feinstein's/54 Below.
As Thomas O'Malley says, "Ev'rybody wants to be a cat!" A captivating story and iconic Disney score, finished with an elegant Parisian flair, make this romantic musical comedy ready-made for the stage. Don't let the film's G-rating lead you to believe that this story is simplistic. The Aristocats explores themes such as classism, greed, love, and sacrifice. Much like Broadway's Bandstand, The Aristocats's Scat Cat jazz band offers a unique opportunity to showcase real musicians onstage. To those who scoff at the idea of humans portraying felines onstage, see Andrew Lloyd Webber.
There's nothing Broadway loves more than a classic coming-of-age story. Inside Out delivers one with a unique twist by personifying the protagonist's emotions as her life is uprooted by a cross-country move. The story, which focuses on how human emotions can greatly affect interpersonal relationships, generated a national conversation about mental health. Following the enormous success of Dear Evan Hansen, which similarly tackles the touchy subject of social anxiety, Inside Out could easily and entertainingly fill the clear demand for productions exploring (and normalizing) mental health and teaching kids the importance of self-expression.
Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki's 1997 masterpiece is a story full of magic and wonder that would feel right at home on a Broadway stage. Though set in a mythic feudal Japan, Princess Mononoke feels timely in its representation of a world that is changing far too fast for its inhabitants to feel secure in their futures. Morally complex and with a strong ecological bent, Princess Mononoke portrays a world of visual splendor with lush environments and fabled creatures that would seem right at home rendered through a Broadway proscenium. We're not the only ones who think so either: U.K. theater company Whole Hog Theatre staged a well-received adaptation in 2013.
A rooster who dresses up like Elvis Presley: Sounds like a premise for a surefire Broadway hit, right? Don Bluth and Gary Goldman's 1991 hybrid of live action and animation was generally panned at the time, but of course, negative press has never stopped Broadway from turning notorious flops into musical theater gold (see Xanadu). And considering that Glen Campbell voiced one of the main characters — Chanticleer, a rooster who left a farm in shame to become a rock star in the city — the possibility of folding a mini-jukebox musical of the late, great country legend into T.J. Kuenster's pleasant batch of original tunes for the film is tantalizing indeed. With its Wizard of Oz-like quest narrative — a few farm animals try to find Chanticleer in order to help combat the efforts of a dastardly owl called the Grand Duke to keep the sun from rising again — it seems like an easy hook for younger theatergoers, with plenty of opportunities for playful costumes and puppetry of the type that has made The Lion King an enduring stage phenomenon.
The Iron Giant
Even though Brad Bird's 1999 animated film is set in the 1950s, its depiction of Cold War paranoia feels somewhat relevant now with Russia back in the news. The world might thus be ready for The Iron Giant to re-emerge in the cultural landscape. The idea of creating a giant metal man for the stage is daunting, to be sure, but that hasn't really stopped the theater world before. As expensive as such a proposition may be, the result will surely be worth the trouble, especially considering the excellence of the source material: a charming E.T-like tale of a friendship between a young boy named Hogarth and a robot from outer space that morphs into a moral reckoning, as the robot develops not just consciousness, but a humane conscience. Turning it into a musical would fit Bird's playful and faintly episodic style in the film, and the immensely colorful hand-drawn images in the film could easily be replicated on the stage. Kids will gravitate toward its innocent surface-level story of friendship and heroism, while adults will find much to admire in its unsparing period depiction of an often overly idealized time in American history.
Welcome to the Space Jam, the craziest intersection of cartoons, sports, and aliens '90s cinema ever saw. And now, 20 years later, it could be the Michael Jordan bio-musical the world doesn't know it desperately needs. With an already killer movie soundtrack that introduced us to R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly," Coolio's "The Winner," and a title song by the never-again-seen Quad City DJ's, it already has a Broadway-ready score queued up. Just throw in some basketball choreography and the Looney Toons vs. Monstars game is ready to be a showstopping 11-o'clock number. As we prophetically sang back in 1996, "Here's your chance, do your dance at the Space Jam."
Considering the current climate (both literally and figuratively), the time is right to throw environmental issues into the Broadway mix. And what better way to start than with FernGully: The Musical? In 1992, the epic battle between Australian rainforest fairies and evil polluting loggers was riding the wave of rallying cries against climate change (or "global warming" as we were allowed to call it back then). With environmentalism back in vogue, all we need are some Jason Robert Brown love ballads for hunky lumberjack Zak and his magical rainforest tour guide Crysta, and move over Wicked— a new green revolution is coming to town.