STUDIO: Walt Disney Home Entertainment
MSRP: $14.99
RUNNING TIME: 94 Minutes
Behind-the-scenes featurette
Performance of "Till There Was You"

The Pitch

"It’s the Pied Piper of Iowa!"

The Humans

Matthew Broderick, Kristen Chenoweth, Victor Garber, Molly Shannon.

The Nutshell

Prof. Harold Hill (Broderick), known to his friends as "Greg," is a notorious swindler. He’s a silver-tongued rascal whose latest scheme involves convincing the citizens of small towns to give him down-payments on musical instruments and band uniforms so that he can whip the townfolk lads into a regular marching band spectacle. In the small Iowa burg of River City, though, his plan gets knocked a bit off-kilter by a lovely, and skeptical, young librarian (Chenoweth). Naturally, a love story ensues.

Now there’s the America I know and love.

The Lowdown

Merideth Wilson’s speed-talking, Souza-lovin’ musical hit the big screen back in 1962 with Robert Preston ("You have been recruited by the Star League…") and Shirley Jones in the leads. It continues to be well-regarded for its energetic performances and singalong tunes, though its current-day audience isn’t the widest. Well, in 2003 some stars aligned and informed a trio of producers hot off the heels of Chicago that the time was right to revive a second musical. Who to get for the cunning, incisive lead? None other than Matthew Broderick, who had proven himself to pop culture with his turn in The Producers on Broadway.

This has gotta be like some kind of violation of the law of conservation of mass, or something. Take two highly successful pieces of entertainment, extract key components (one vial of producers, one vial of male lead) and mix them together, and… the result is lesser than the components suggest.

This version of The Music Man would seem hardly out of place were it released in the sixties. It is filmed with a reliance on static cameras and wide shots, like recording stage performances, that dominated musicals during their time in the limelight. The unobtrusive camera allows for complicated blocking and dance routines, but is aggressively uncinematic.

In her religion, its impolite to bare your enormous frontal lobe on the Sabbath.

Matthew Broderick has already demonstrated that he can pull a con, thanks to his role in The Producers, so his portrayal of Harold "Greg" Hill isn’t particularly surprising, or a stretch for the actor. Fortunately, he has charisma in spades, which is all that is required from him, apart from a limber tongue. Prof. Hill’s wheeling-and-dealing logic dances around the poor townsfolk of River City like a featherweight boxer, and Broderick fills in the trunks nicely. His rapid dialogue contains so many humorous nuggets that it’s hard to latch onto all of them. One my favorites comes as the Prof extols the talent of a particular flugelhorn player of his acquaintance: "He can flugel the minute waltz in fifty seconds!"

Digging beneath the fact that this is a remake, and just examining the story, the audience will find a familiar redemption of an immoral character. The bad guy, who prizes deceit and white lies, comes to his senses thanks to the influence and love of a just and true individual, who in this case happens to be River City’s only living feminist. The central failing of the plot is that Prof. Hill is a much more interesting character when he’s perpetrating his scams; he’s fun to watch, fun to listen to, and lovable in his own little way. Marian the librarian is set up as a stuffy, boring character in first impression, and that’s the impression that lasts when she begins to get her hooks in Hill. It’s no fun watching a man come to his senses, not when he’s so delightfully morally ambiguous.

2003’s The Music Man is an almost perfect reproduction of the 1962 film adaptation, with a few minor anachronisms here and there. It’s designed to appeal to those who have an existing love of musical theater, who love the roles and the songs and enjoy watching new bodies and voices behind them. It’s a trip to the theater, filmed for your convenience.

Irony: A librarian was the template for Barbie dolls,
and so went down in masturbation history.

The Package

Good sound quality is a must-have in a musical, and The Music Man doesn’t disappoint. The songs themselves lack the scope of more orchestral fare, but all the brass instruments come through clearly, and the marching tunes are reproduced with a healthy amount of bass to anchor them.

There are two bonus featurettes included on the disc. One is a behind-the-scenes deal that explores a few of the differences in making a musical as compared to a straight narrative. The other is an isolated performance of the film’s signature love song, "Till There Was You."

6.7 out of 10