Imagine, if you will, a small domino that represents Steven Soderbergh telling Joe and Anthony Russo that they’d never succeed with their version of low-budget indie filmmaking. That domino tips into NBC’s Community, which tips into the mega-blockbuster Avengers: Endgame, which tips into… a TikTok-inspired live-action movie musical adaptation of Disney’s Hercules. This is the future of cinema, say the Russo Brothers, and short of traveling back in time to beg Soderbergh to keep his mouth shut, there’s nothing we can do about it!
The Russos are pretty confident they have the beat on what young audiences want. “I’ve got four kids, so I can identify Gen Z’s habits pretty accurately. They don’t have the same emotional connection to watching things in a theater,” Joe Russo claims in a new Variety profile. Apparently, observing their kids as they’re presumably glued to their phones all day gave the filmmakers a bright idea for their Guy Ritchie-helmed Hercules adaptation. “There are questions about how you translate it as a musical,” says Russo. “Audiences today have been trained by TikTok, right? What is their expectation of what that musical looks like and feels like? That can be a lot of fun and help us push the boundaries a little bit on how you execute a modern musical.”
A feature-length movie musical designed specifically for algorithmically-affected attention spans? One shudders to wonder. And sure, Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical blew up during the dog days of the pandemic in 2020, but so did Tiger King. We were all different people back then. This should not be the barometer for how media is created going forward!
One thing we can all agree on is that the live-action Disney adaptations tend to lack a bit of soul when they’re “just a reinterpretation of the animated film,” so it’s understandable that the producers want their version to be “a little bit more experimental in tone, a little bit more experimental in execution.” Though Russo’s business-minded perspective “on how they can stretch the limits of their IP moving forward, rather than playing IP management” does not inspire much confidence in the way of bringing soul to the enterprise.
“Translating” a movie musical does not require reinventing the wheel (especially when the translation is of an already much-beloved movie musical). Young people on TikTok literally love Mamma Mia (just one tag pertaining to the film accounts for more than three billion views on the app). Meanwhile, the traditional movie musical is arguably in a renaissance. Last year’s crop of Tick Tick… Boom!, In The Heights, and West Side Story have all proved to be some combination of successful, popular, or critically acclaimed, with honorable mentions to previous highlights La La Land, A Star Is Born, and The Greatest Showman. (Just forget about Cats and Dear Evan Hansen, okay?)
There’s really never been a better time to revisit a musical with the kind of existing goodwill that Hercules has. A little experimentation to revitalize the source material is one thing, but one needn’t go so far as to TikTok-ify a genre that already works well on its own. Mr. Soderbergh, come get your guys, please!