There is no doubt that when it comes to the animated musical, Disney dominates the genre. The impact and influence those films have had on performers is incalculable. But when it comes to live-action musicals, Disney has had some major hits as well. While not every single one has had the financial success and impact that their animated films have, they certainly deserve some credit.
So here are my picks for the top 10 live-action Disney musicals.
10. High School Musical 3: Senior Year (2008)
I know there are plenty of people who like to criticize this franchise but we have to give credit where credit is due. What the HSM series did for its generation is similar to what Beauty & the Beast did to theirs. Out of the entire series, I would have to say that the last one is the best. While the first two certainly had their moments, I feel like everything came together nicely with the finale.
9. In Search of Castaways (1962)
You wouldn’t think turning a Jules Verne story into a musical would work but Disney did just that in 1962 with In Search of Castaways. It starred Hayley Mills and Maurice Chevalier in a tale about a worldwide search for a shipwrecked sea captain. While the movie only has four songs, all of them are pretty good.
8. Summer Magic (1963)
At first, Walt Disney did not care for "Ugly Bug Ball", but songwriter Robert Sherman explained that to bugs, other bugs were not ugly even if they looked ugly to us, beauty being in the eye of the beholder. Disney liked the idea and the song went on to become one of the popular songs of the year. "On the Front Porch" is songwriter Robert Sherman's personal favorite song from his own work.
7. Babes in Toyland (1961)
I know many have a soft spot for this film, I do too. There are some good songs and others that are horribly dated. For instance “I Can’t Do the Sum” which may or may not says that women can’t do math, you tell me.
6. Pete’s Dragon (1977)
While the movie is mostly remembered for its visual effects(which were groundbreaking for 1977), the movie actually contains some great music. There's Room for Everyone", “Bill of Sale”, "Passamaquoddy" are all quality songs and I will put “Candle on the Water” up there with all the other Disney classics. While a Broadway musical version of this is unlikely, it would be a fun concert to see.
5. The Muppets (2011)
Nothing will probably ever top “Rainbow Connection”, but the Muppet reboot in 2011 provided us with some great music from Bre McKenzie of "Flight of the Conchords” fame. Especially “Man or a Muppet” which actually won the Oscar for Best Song that year.
4. Bedknobs & Broomsticks (1971)
I’ve always wondered why Bedknobs and Broomsticks didn’t get the love that many other Disney classic do. With a strong score and fantastic cast, including Angela Lansbury in her singing prime, it was actually nominated for five Academy Awards, one of the most ever for a Disney live-action film. The movie is ripe of a stage adaptation which thankfull is on its way. The musical is scheduled to make its world premiere at the Yard at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater from May 30 to July 28, 2019 as part of its 2018/19 season.
3. The Happiest Millionaire (1967)
Containing one of the better collection of songs by the Sherman Brothers, The Happiest Millionaire doesn’t get its due compared to some of their more famous work. It’s one of the few Disney properties that’s due for a stage adaptation, even though it was a play before a movie-musical. There are some fantastic songs in here. “It Won’t Be Long ‘til Christmas” is a classic and “Are We Dancing?” is a classic.
2. Newsies (1992)
On a personal level, this movie was one of the driving forces for me to become involved in theatre. But while Newsies wasn’t a huge hit at the time, it’s certainly has had an impact in the decades since its release. Full of stunning choreography and some of Alan Menken’s best work, Newsies was a long time favorite to have a stage adaptation which finally happened in 2011.
1. Mary Poppins (1964)
Was there any doubt? Not only is Mary Poppins the crowning achievement for Disney live-action musicals, it’s widely regarded as one of the best movie musicals of all time. The film was nominated for 13 Academy Awards including Best Picture and won five. Julie Andrews won for Best Actress. The movie contains some of the most iconic Disney songs and Walt Disney’s personal favorite, “Feed the Birds”
Will its sequel, due out this Christmas, live up to the original? We’ll have to see.