We gave it an A-
We fans of the movie musical don’t have much to cheer our hearts these days. Chicago‘s in development hell, Rent‘s not due for years, and we’ll believe in a filmic Phantom when we see one; even animation may be losing its footing as the tuner’s last stronghold, with Disney deciding Tarzan shouldn’t sing, just swing. Oh well. As a deliciously tasteless consolation prize, there’s Music From and Inspired by South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, a cast album that gleefully sends up all the Hollywood musical conventions we’re being deprived of. Lost amid all the talk of whether the South Park movie might be inappropriate for kids — duh, dude! — was the idea that an even more appreciative target audience than teens might be grown-up drama queens.
Park ranger Trey Parker cowrote most of the 12-song score with established composer Mark Shaiman, and these two don’t waste time in getting the mock Menken & Ashman riotously under way. Anyone who’s seen Beauty and the Beast‘s Belle describing her provincial life will recognize the roots of ”Mountain Town,” and even Satan gets a yearning ballad, wondering about life ”Up There,” a la Little Mermaid‘s ”Part of Your World.” It’s not just Disneyana on the block: ”What Would Brian Boitano Do?” is prime variety-show disco, while the do-si-do Coplandisms in ”Uncle F**ka” suggest Oklahoma! on crack, with an inspired farting interlude that seems ripe for an Agnes de Mille dream ballet.
The disc is filled out by less satisfying ”interpretations” of the score by hip-hop and rock acts, from Kid Rock to Rush. When rappers turn Parker’s profane ditties more obscene still while jettisoning the orchestration’s satiric juxtaposition, it’s distressingly close enough to standard hip-hop fare that the joke sours, especially when you imagine kids committing them to memory. You should probably have to show your Sondheim Fan Club card, if not proper proof of age, to buy a copy.
The live-action movie musical is actually alive in another evolutionary form, though not one aficionados are eager to claim. It’s that modern breed of romantic comedy that liberally employs a pop soundtrack to amplify characters’ innermost feelings, without anyone in the cast having to brave an aria. Call it the voice-over musical. Runaway Bride: Music From the Motion Picture offers 14 of the songs that punctuate the action at roughly seven-minute intervals in Garry Marshall’s overcalculated comedy. When Julia Roberts and Richard Gere first develop a crush, Martina McBride expresses the enthusiasm they can’t: ”Sure as the sky is blue/Baby, I love you!” And when they briefly break up, voice-for-hire Eric Clapton is there to sympathize: ”It was you who put those clouds around me…/It was you who made my blue eyes blue.” This latter hackwork comes from the prolific pen of Diane Warren, who will never be mistaken for Rodgers and Hart, but each generation gets the show tunesmiths it deserves.
Having Billy Joel jauntily update Lloyd Price’s ”Where Were You (On Our Wedding Day)?” is fairly clever, and the Dixie Chicks’ ”Ready to Run” is such a cheerful paean to commitment phobia, it nearly defeats the picture’s ultimate moral. But for every plot-savvy choice, there are two instances of AC glop, from Slowhand’s slumming to an English-language waste of salsa superstar Marc Anthony. Gotta sing, gotta dance … gotta run.
South Park: A-
Runaway Bride: C+