Disney has drawn heavily from its film catalogue in its theatrical pursuits, a natural choice since the scores for many of those films were written by stage composers. The studio produced memorable and highly theatrical films before its '90s renaissance, though. Here is our list of seven of them that belong on the stage.
For the record we haven't included Pixar films – but we've already got our sights set on a Coco stage show.
The Princess and the Frog
We love the earnest messages in The Princess and the Frog. We also love the music – "Dig A Little Deeper", "Friends on the Other Side", "Down in New Orleans", all courtesy of Randy Newman. Getting the frog transformation right may be a bit of an ask (puppetry? Shrek-style make-up?) but with songs like this and a fantastic story to boot, there's so much potential.
The Emperor's New Groove
With some immortal zingers ("Wrong Lever!"), this flippant comedy caper about a selfish ruler hell-bent on caring as little as possible about his subjects has music at its heart. Composed by Sting and David Hartley with vocals from the likes of Tom Jones, Eartha Kitt, Rascal Flatts and more, there's really no reason why it couldn't work on stage. Plus, with all the animal transformation, it could be a puppetry designer's dream.
This one's been rumoured for a while and there is a cruise-ship production, so we'd bet a wad of dollars that a musical will be just around the corner. With composition by Alan Menken (who has written some of the best musical tunes of the last half-century) attached, the tale of the ass-kicking Rapunzel battling to reach her parents would have audiences in droves of tears.
We're not too sure how they'd make the nautical moments land but, if it can work for Life of Pi then we're sure some theatremakers might "know the way". Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa'i and Mark Mancina's tunes are probably some of the best in a twentieth-century film (big claim but we're sticking to it) and would usher in a new generation of talent.
The Black Cauldron
Hear us out on this one. So you've got an edgy, dark story that could be an intriguing prospect for audiences of all generations (based on Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain series of novels). The score is composed by Elmer Bernstein (no relation), who was also responsible for the Thoroughly Modern Millie film and shows like Merlin. So why not strip back all the cheesiness and plushness of the Disney film and create a gripping saga, with songs inspired by Bernstein and faithfully orchestrated to replicate the story's Welsh mythological heritage. In effect, try and do what Lord of the Rings couldn't? You might have the next Ocean at the End of the Lane on your hands.
This would instantly become Disney's most high-minded stage offering ever, but with a score by Bach, Tchaikovsky, and Beethoven, it would be hard to beat in the music department. We envision this as more of a staged concert featuring a full symphony orchestra, but heavy on dance and theatrical design. It would be a prime opportunity for the mouse to flex some different muscles.
The heroine of this 1977 animated feature isn't a princess, but a frightened yet resourceful orphan girl named Penny who needs a little help. That help comes in the form of two adorable mice from the Rescue Aid Society, a kind of rodent U.N. The soundtrack is mostly underscoring rather than sung by the characters, so this gives the creative team the option to write a new score of Cajun music to fit the Devil's Bayou location. The Rescuers also benefits from a truly grotesque villain in Madame Medusa, a role we can imagine a number of performers sinking their teeth into.