Lin-Manuel Miranda is currently costarring as Jack in “Mary Poppins Returns”, the holiday family musical from Walt Disney Pictures. But the Tony-winning composer’s latest role is far from Miranda’s first encounter with the Mouse. During a recent press event in Miami on the day of Mary Poppins Returns‘s release, our reporter participated in a roundtable discussion where Lin-Manuel Miranda shared his thoughts about a number of other Disney-related movies, including “Moana”, “The Little Mermaid”, and “Guardians of the Galaxy”.
Lin-Manuel Miranda on writing music for ‘Moana’:
The easiest song I ever wrote was “You’re Welcome” for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, because I was a fan of when he would sing as a wrestler. I knew his vocal range, and I knew that if I made the hook “you’re welcome,” he’s the only person who could pull that off and actually have it be charming. Because he’s Dwayne “The Rock” Freaking Johnson!
On growing up watching ‘Mary Poppins’:
Two-thirds of “Mary Poppins” was my favorite movie. I owned that movie on VHS growing up. I don’t remember when it landed in our house, but I remember spending many hours dancing with Dick Van Dyke and those penguins during “Jolly Holiday”. And then I would turn it off just as soon as “Feed the Birds” came on, because that’s the saddest melody in the history of the world, and it just broke my little heart. I would turn it off, because I could, because it was on VHS. I didn’t see the end of the movie or “Step In Time” until I was in high school.
On the Guardians of the Galaxy films:
I’ll tell you what I love about [Guardians of the Galaxy] is the notion of the mix tape. I feel very lucky that I came of age at a time when cassette was the dominant form of listening to music, and here’s why: I grew up in mix-tape culture, and I believe that everything I learned about writing scores, I learned when I was making mix cassettes for people I loved and for friends. Because they have to listen to it in the order I set, I am telling how I feel about them by the choices of songs, and there’s a rise and a fall. There’s a side A and side B, just like we have an act break in musical theater. Everything I know about writing Broadway scores I learned making mixes for girls I liked.
On ‘The Little Mermaid’:
The moment Sebastian started singing to Ariel, that was the giant supernova in my childhood imagination. I saw it on a playdate with a friend, and I dragged my parents back the next week, and then I dragged my sister to take me again. And then I called in sick from school the day it came out on VHS so that I wouldn’t have to wait until the end of the school day. I was obsessed with how fresh and how inventive those numbers felt. They felt as if they were written today, and yet they felt like instant Disney classics.
On future Disney projects:
I think my goal is to create new characters with Disney, the way we were able to with “Moana”. It was a great joy of my life to work with those Little Mermaid directors on “Moana”, and write new music. I’m going to continue to find ways to create new characters with them, in the animated world or not, whatever is required.
On the current movie musical renaissance:
I think it’s not a coincidence that we are seeing the rise of the movie musical again in a very real way. I grew in a fallow time for movie musicals. We had “Fame”, we had “Newsies”, we had “Labyrinth”. The ’80s were rough for movie musicals; I love all those movies that I listed, but there just weren’t that many. I don’t think it’s an accident that the peak of the MGM Hollywood musical coincided with a really dark time in our world’s history: the 1930s and 1940s. I think we’re increasingly going the movies to escape, and to have a collective experience of joy together.
It’s good for me. I write musicals, so I’m very happy this is happening, but I think we need to continue to innovate and push the form. What I’m even more thrilled by is that “Mary Poppins Returns” is so different from “A Star is Born”, is so different from “The Greatest Showman”, is so different from “Mamma Mia Here We Go Again”, is so different from “La La Land”. As long as we continue to expand the boundaries of the kind of stories musical can tell … Once we become a formula, we’re dead, and the musical dies for another 20 years. So as long as we keep pushing the form, I think we can continue seeing musicals on the big screen in a big way.
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