Movie musical trailers | Why aren’t there any songs in them?

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We’ve just had a first look at the new Mean Girls movie. It’s a musical – but you wouldn’t know that from the trailer.

Get in loser – we’re making a musical.

It’s a good time to be a movie musical fan. After a few years of the all-singing and dancing genre taking the back seat – The Greatest Showman, La La Land and (gird yourself) Cats are some of the few big-scale examples from the last decade or so – the upcoming cinema slate is looking a lot more promising for fans of the theatre.

First up, we have Paul King’s Roald Dahl prequel, Wonka, which is doompety doo-ing its way into cinemas at the end of this year. The film adaptation of Wicked is (SAG-AFTRA strike not-withstanding) arriving a year later. And in between those two we have the film adaptation of Tina Fey’s cult-film-turned-Broadway-phenomenon, Mean Girls: The Musical.

Not that you’d know that from the trailer. In its wisdom, Paramount has called the film Mean Girls, perhaps forgetting that it already released that film two decades ago. Based purely on the footage we’ve seen so far, largely consisting of catchphrases from the original, you’d be forgiven for thinking next year’s high school comedy was a straight-up remake of Fey’s 2004 classic.

But it’s not. The trailer might have somehow cut around all the bits where people burst into song, but you can clearly see some big Broadway-style dance numbers with the audio cut out. The accompanying press release, too, avoids all mention of the word ‘musical’, instead opting for the bamboozingly vague “a new twist from Tina Fey”.

And it’s not the first time this has happened, either. Multiple trailers for the aforementioned Wonka have, solitary Oompa Loompa aside, completely avoided the fact that the prequel has people singing in it. This, in turn, harks back to 2007, when the first trailer for Sweeney Todd almost completely forgot to show off any of its songs.

There’s some – with the emphasis on the some – logic to this. For as long as most movie execs can remember, the word ‘musical’ has been seen as box office poison. Bringing to mind Hollywood’s Golden Age of men in sailor hats and tap shoes, there’s certainly a sense that the genre has had its day.

With studios chasing the widest possible market, the move makes a bit of sense. Some people (incorrect people, we reckon) just don’t like musicals. They will never willingly pay to watch a musical. If you don’t tell them your film is a musical, they at least have a chance of watching it. Ergo, making your film based on a Broadway hit look like a straight up comedy or drama, you might make a bit more money.

But surely, once the metaphorical curtain is lifted, all these unwilling punters are going to be a bit cross, no? We appreciate that this doesn’t entirely matter to the people on the other end of a cinema ticket sale, but it hardly seems to be a great way to ensure the people who are going to like your film are going to see it. As a tool for generating good word of mouth – which with social media has arguably become more important than ever – this bizarre trailer strategy seems like a short-sighted one.

Mean Girls, especially, suffers because the musical aspect really is its USP. At least Wonka has the alternative marketing slogan of ‘it’s a Charlie And The Chocolate Factory prequel’. Take out the songs, and Tina Fey’s reworking of her script looks less like a reworking and more a carbon copy of a pretty recent film with no CGI and no real need of a remake at all.

In short, though, we’re very excited for the new Mean Girls movie. It is a musical, though. Wouldn’t it be better if everyone knew that?

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