Thu Apr 20, 2017, 08:35 PM

If We're Going to Cast Movie Stars in Musicals, It's Time to Bring Back Dubbing

Emma Watson is a good actress who looks the part of a Disney princess, but she does not have the voice of one. In her defense, few people do. Aspirational figures that they are, Disney princesses tend to sing songs that push the limits of the average vocal range without breaking so much as a cartoon sweat. As anyone who’s made a bad choice at karaoke can tell you, those girls love their key changes — see “Reflection,” and don’t get me started on “Let It Go.” So it’s not too much of a surprise when, as Emma Watson runs up to a hilltop for “Belle (Reprise)” in the new Beauty and the Beast, her voice wavers. She’s pitchy and rushed, seemingly hesitant about all that “adventure in the great wide somewhere.”

(For reference, here's a line by line comparison of Watson singing vs the original)

Before Beauty and the Beast premiered, Watson described the experience of singing on film as “terrifying” — a reasonable fear. Despite what fairy tales might have you believe, there are some things you can’t accomplish just by trying hard and believing in yourself. With all the swaddling protections of a big studio effort — singing lessons, Auto-Tune, the chance to prerecord in the studio — the actress was guaranteed to at least sound fine, but a part like Belle demands something more than “fine.” In the 1991 film, Paige O’Hara, who had previously appeared in various Broadway musicals, played the part with mid-Atlantic spunk and precise schoolgirlish articulation best seen in “Something There.” Dozens of actresses have taken on the part on Broadway and theatrical tours, and every drama kid has pretended to be Belle at least once (I speak from experience). We’ve all learned one thing: To succeed at the part, you have to be exceptional. Watson, to put it frankly, isn’t.

Beauty and the Beast might be the most egregious attempt to shove an actor into a singing role beyond their abilities, but it certainly isn’t alone. Just within the realm of Emmas, there’s Emma Stone, who replaced Watson in La La Land and went on to win an Oscar, despite the fact that her vocal abilities are nothing to write home to Boulder City about. Stone’s saving grace is the music itself: Her big number “Audition (the Fools Who Dream)” comes with the world’s most accommodating key change, the equivalent of going half a speed faster on a treadmill. Meryl Streep dodged the “Can she really sing?” bullet in Florence Foster Jenkins by singing poorly; in Into the Woods she dodged it by being Meryl Streep. Her co-stars in that musical, from The Last Five Years’ Anna Kendrick to future Mary Poppins Emily Blunt, all do their best with the intricacies of Sondheim, but mostly they make you wish for some experts who could step up to the task. Audiences may love an underdog story, but nowhere was the talent divide more apparent than in 2012’s Les Misérables, which included both singers who can act (Broadway’s Samantha Barks), actors who can sing (Anne Hathaway), and actors who tried their best (Russell Crowe).

Thus I propose an old Hollywood solution to a new Hollywood problem: Let’s bring back vocal dubbing. If you’re going to hire famous actors to bring some star power to your movies, help them out by letting someone else do the hard part. Back in the movie musical heyday, this practice was fairly common — the late Marni Nixon, for instance, provided the singing voice of everyone from Deborah Kerr to Audrey Hepburn — but those who provided dubbing often went without fair credit. But that’s a black mark against Hollywood, not against dubbing itself. If we had our way, the dubbers would get fair recognition, and hopefully the chance to transition into on-camera roles using their behind-the-scenes exposure, Singin’ in the Rain–style. Sure, bringing back dubbing might strand a bunch of talented potential stars in the unglamorous position of acting as other people’s voices, but it might be worth it, if only to save audiences from the secondhand embarrassment of watching amateur singers flail.

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Reply If We're Going to Cast Movie Stars in Musicals, It's Time to Bring Back Dubbing (Original post)
Juan Rico Apr 2017 OP
GordieG Apr 2017 #1
TM999 Apr 2017 #2

Response to Juan Rico (Original post)

Thu Apr 20, 2017, 08:40 PM

1. I guess I've seen too many musicals by high schoolers. Watson seems just fine.


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Response to Juan Rico (Original post)

Fri Apr 21, 2017, 12:19 AM

2. You have my 100% support.

I haven't had any desire to see Beauty and the Beast but I know I might get dragged to it by the grandkids.

I couldn't make it through a minute of that video. There is simply no comparison between the two. ]

Watson has been so auto-tuned that it just grates on my ears. One of the worst things to hit the modern music industry is auto-tunes.


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