The best musical scenes create a poem, a romance that convinces us that the unreal is real. We don’t care how unrealistic the situation is, the best musical scenes make us believe because we long for it to be true. It is too beautiful, too perfect not to be true. Good musical scenes stun us and take our breath away. Perfect musical scenes create a world that we enter for a few moments.
Red Shoes Ballet-- The Red Shoes
One of the most magnificent productions ever. It is long, taking up the whole center of the movie, but it exemplifies what a musical scene can do, even without words. All the emotion, power and themes presented in a single scene. Even so, the complexity of staging and the colors create a fantasy stage world that takes one’s breath away.
Do Re Mi- Sound of Music
Not only is this song one of the catchiest songs ever composed, but in film it is almost a miracle of writing and editing, creating a montage of setting, teaching and acceptance. Everything about the legend of the Von Trapp singers are in this scene and it re-creates them right here, village life, prodigy singing, a teacher who is practically perfect in every way-- they got it all.
This song perfectly exemplifies the joy and color of the best Bollywood musicals along with a village celebration and a battle of the sexes. When I think of Bollywood, this is often the scene I return to.
Tonight (reprise)—West Side Story
Not the balcony fire escape scene, but near the end of the film with all the heavies of the cast singing. This is probably the best penultimate songs ever. At this point in the film, we have accepted the musical world of dancing gang fights and Natalie Wood as an immigrant or not. Now we have the original romantic song mixed with gangs prepping for a fight and the seductress readying herself to get her man. They are talking themselves up and this perfectly ramps us up, ready for a exciting conclusion.
When Your Mind’s Made Up –Once
We have been following our two lead characters for half the film getting reading to create an album, and finally, when they are in the studio, we see them from the place of the editing booth. The editor has heard thousands of bands, and this is one more. As the song continues, though, he sets aside his book and begins to realize that this band is different, and deserving of his full attention. At this point the band amps up and gives us their full energy. Best studio scene ever.
Everybody Wants to Be a Cat—Aristocats
Honestly, the Aristocats is among the least of Disney’s catalog (no pun intended). But when they arrive at the “pad” and the music hits us, we realize we are in for something fun. As we are introduced to the new characters, we really warm up. The song is so infectious and builds up to such a peak, we find ourselves singing it long after the film is over. A meter of racism is uncomfy, but it passes quickly and then we are bouncing and giggling and the colors flash and… yeah, man.
Barn Dance—Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
It amazes me how much sexual tension you can put in a film that’s really a G-rated musical. The tension of the seven brothers finally explode in their competition with the other men of the town at the barn raising. The dance itself begins tame and builds up to a level of circus acrobatics. Eye-popping and entertaining to the highest degree.
“I was hearing the voice of God”—Amadeus
Amadeus combines some of the most magnificent music ever written with commentary on the music and the human being filled with longing and religious jealousy that combines to a sweet complexity. It is no wonder so many people thought that the story was really true.
Candy Colored Clown—Blue Velvet
It is common for musical scenes to express joy, exhilaration or spectacle, but they rarely express dread. With no context, there is not much happening in this scene, but in the film, we are just waiting for everything to explode. Dennis Hopper provides the omnipotent backdrop of a violent lunatic which gives a new emotion to the Roy Orbison classic.
Lose That Long Face—A Star is Born (1954)
Judy Garland’s marriage is breaking up, but she must perform and the song she has to perform is that of a superficial joy despite sorrow. She smiles and dances and clowns, but her depression is seen in the corner of her eyes, belying the joy she is supposed to exude. A mix of emotions that causes us to cry instead of smile, as we are commanded.
Next to Last Song –Dancer in the Dark
This is the final scene of the film, Dancer in the Dark, so you might want to skip this description if you haven’t seen the film. Bjork is dying for her love of her son, her care for her manipulative neighbor. She isn’t strong enough to deal with this last scene, but once she realizes that her death leads to her son being able to see, she can once again be the heroine of her own musical. She bolts out, “This isn’t the last song” and we weep at the abuse the world heaps on her.
O Death—O Brother Where Art Thou?
A Klu Klux Klan rally where a black man is about to be lynched is spooky. But when the head of the Klan begins singing the standard O Death with Ralph Stanley’s weak and cracking voice, we wonder if the lynching isn’t about a perverted sense of justice, but a human sacrifice. And when the Klan begins marching to the beat of the song, it’s simply surreal.
77 Other Great Musical Scenes (in no particular order):
Spoonful of Sugar—Mary Poppins
Train Scene—Music Man
Chim Chim Chimery/Step in Time—Mary Poppins
Empty Spaces—Pink Floyd The Wall—Empty Spaces
Singing in the Rain—Singing in the Rain
I Dreamed A Dream –Les Miserables
Linda Linda—Linda Linda Linda
New York New York—Shame
Bye Bye Life—All That Jazz
Molasses to Rum –1776
Music Box Dance—Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Opening credits –Skyfall
Be Our Guest—Beauty and the Beast
I Won’t Dance –Swing Time
Treat Her Right—The Commitments
Always Look on the Bright Side of Life – Life of Brian
The Man That Got Away—A Star is Born
Hunchback of Notre Dame—Hellfire
Rainbow Connection—The Muppet Movie
I’ve Seen It All—Dancer in the Dark
Isn’t It a Lovely Day—Top Hat
An American In Paris—Tap Dance
My Beloved Monster—Shrek
Do You Want To Build a Snowman?—Frozen
I’ll Try—Return to Neverland
Love on the Rocks—The Jazz Singer
When Somebody Loved Me—Toy Story 2
Thus Spake Zarathustra –2001: A Space Odyssey
You Make My Dreams Come True –500 Days of Summer
This Is Halloween—The Nightmare Before Christmas
Man or Muppet?—The Muppets
I Will Follow Him –Sister Act
That’s How You Know –Enchanted
The Lonely Goatherd—Sound of Music
Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaye To—Pyaasa
Don’t Rain On My Parade –Funny Girl
Little Town—Beauty and the Beast
Unchained Melody –Ghost
Honor to Us all—Mulan
Parade—Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Topsy Turvy—Hunchback of Notre Dame
Love Is An Open Door—Frozen
Yeh Tara Woh Tara—Swades
Putting on My Sunday Clothes—Hello Dolly
I Just Can’t Wait To Be King—Lion King
We Got Trouble—Music Man
Over the Rainbow—Wizard of Oz
With One More Look At You/Watching Me Now—A Star is Born 1976
Why don’t you do right –Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Poor Unfortunate Souls—Little Mermaid
On Broadway—All That Jazz
Gee Officer Krupskie—West Side Story
Babysitter’s Blues—Adventures in Babysitting
Hey Big Spender—Sweet Charity
The Hills Are Alive—Sound of Music
Beauty School Dropout—Grease
Circle of Life—Lion King
Que Sera Sera –The Man Who Knew Too Much
French Club Dance –Funny Face
A Clockwork Orange—Singin In the Rain
Musical Aliens –Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Dueling Banjos –Deliverance
Stonehenge –Spinal Tap
Wayne’s World—Bohemian Rhapsody
Fame—Hot Lunch Jam
The Trial –Pink Floyd The Wall
Hunchback of Notre Dame—God Help the Outcast
Take me or Leave Me—Rent
Your Song—Moulin Rouge
And I Am Telling You –Dreamgirls
I Want It All –High School Musical 3
Do You See The Light?—Blues Brothers
South Park—Blame Canada