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The Year of the Movie Musical?

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By Charissa Roberson

    At the end of 2021, three outstanding musicals hit screens both big and small, wowing audiences and raising the question: does this year belong to the movie musical?

    To start off the releases, “Encanto” premiered in theatres and on Disney+ just in time for Thanksgiving. The newest Disney original musical is set in Columbia and follows the fantastical family Madrigal and their amazing, anthropomorphic house. When the magic is threatened, Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), the only family member with no magical gift, steps up to save her family’s miracle. 

     “Encanto” has been lauded for its stunning animation, moving storyline and, of course, its dazzling songs. Lin-Manuel Miranda – remember that name! – wrote the original songs for “Encanto,” including the expository earworm “The Family Madrigal” and surprise hit “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” which recently surpassed “Frozen” (2013)’s “Let It Go” in popularity! Already taking the cake at the Golden Globes, “Encanto” seems set to dominate the animated playing field at the Oscars too, marking yet another success for the House of Mouse.

    Soon after “Encanto”’s successful performance, another Miranda project leapt into the spotlight: Netflix’s “Tick, Tick…Boom!”, which represented the “Hamilton” creator’s directorial debut in the film world. (Told you to remember Miranda’s name!) Adapted from the stage musical of the same name, “Tick, Tick…Boom!” is an autobiographical rock musical written by “RENT” creator Jonathan Larson as he contemplates his life and creative choices on the eve of turning 30. 

     Andrew Garfield, who learned to sing for the role, plays Larson with an emotive energy that has already won him a Golden Globe and may win him his second Oscar nomination later in the year. (Rather than the year of the musical, some have proposed that this is the year of Garfield, with the actor also making a “surprise” appearance in “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” one of the most talked-about and successful movies of the year – and the second highest-grossing film of all time (Study Breaks)).

    Finally, in December, a much-anticipated film arrived in theaters, after a full year’s delay due to COVID-19: Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of “West Side Story.” Released on Dec. 10, the film’s new premiere happily coincided with the 60th anniversary of the original 1961 film. Though Spielberg has numerous award-winning films to his name, and many more directorial credits than Miranda, “West Side Story” was his first time directing a musical – and he did not disappoint. The film was flooded with critical acclaim almost immediately, winning the Golden Globe awards for Best Musical/Comedy, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress.

    With the continued effects of the pandemic and the on-going debate over streaming versus theatre releases, 2021 remained a complicated year for the film industry. But a glance at the three musical masterpieces that made their debut in 2021 confirms that wonderful things can come out of hard times.