Should Bad Singers Be Dubbed?
March 28, 2017
(The shortened opening)
(Cut to footage of the live-action Beauty and the Beast)
NC (vo): She's just like a well-oiled car, in that there's certainly been a lot of auto-tuning.
(The audience is heard booing; cut back to the NC with a hooded cloak on)
NC: (imitating Emperor Palpatine) Good, good! I can feel your anger! The hate is swelling in you now!
(Footage of both the live-action and animated Beauty and the Beast is shown)
NC (vo): Regardless of your thoughts on this movie... (Coughs) It blows! (Speaks normally) ...most people can agree that Emma Watson is no Paige O'Hara.
Belle (Paige O'Hara; singing): I want adventure in the great wide somewhere.
Belle (Emma Watson; singing): I want adventure in the great wide somewhere.
NC: But if she can't sing it better in an entertainingly unique way, why sing it at all?
(Footage of various musical movies, most having actors not known for singing, are shown. They continue to show throughout this editorial)
NC (vo): This is not the first time in the past several years we've asked this question. Big name actors like The Rock (Dwayne Johnson), Emma Stone, Pierce Brosnan...
(Cut to a clip from Les Miserables)
Javert (Russell Crowe; singing): And I'm Javert!
NC (vo): ...and, of course, our darling little song Crowe. All those singing voices, most people would agree are not that musically impressive, at least certainly not strong enough to survive in musical theatre.
NC: For years, though, this wasn't really seen as a problem, as when an actor couldn't sing, they just dubbed him.
NC (vo): Yeah, nobody even cared. If you could sing, great, but if not, you were still loved. You just got someone else to sing your part for you. But recently, there's been this big thing about not dubbing singers, even if they're not musically inclined.
NC: Because of that, our ear drums have paid...
NC (vo): ...with Gerard Butler...
The Phantom (from The Phantom of the Opera (2004); singing): All that the Phantom...
NC (vo): ...Marlon Brando...
Sky Masterson (from Guys and Dolls; singing): But there is room for doubt.
NC (vo): ...even (Clint) Eastwood gave it a try, much to our everlasting horror.
Sylvester Newel (from Paint Your Wagon; singing): But suddenly, my words reach someone else's ear.
NC: So the big question is: If an actor is not a good singer, should they be dubbed?
NC (vo): Well, let's look at the pros and cons. The big argument is that, if an actor is dubbed, it takes away from their performance. It's not the actor's inflections, tone, or even voice. So many would say we're not actually watching the actor.
NC: I'll admit, there are times where an obvious dub can get in the way.
(Cut to clips of The Lion King)
Young Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas): Well, when I'm king, that'll be the first thing to go.
(Cut to the song "I Just Can't Wait to Be King", with Young Simba's singing performed by Jason Weaver)
Young Simba: (singing) I'm gonna be the mane event, like no king was before.
NC (vo): But then again, Matthew Broderick's dubbing is almost identical.
(The "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" sequence is shown next)
Adult Simba (Joseph Williams; singing): So many things to tell her, but how to make her see?
(Cut to footage of Quest for Camelot)
NC (vo): Cary Elwes' dubbing is laughably noticeable in Quest for Camelot.
Garrett (Cary Elwes): Really? I'll have to take your word for that.
(Cut to the song "I Stand Alone", with Garrett's singing performed by Bryan White)
Garrett: (singing) Everything breathes, and I know each breath.
(Cut to footage of O Brother, Where Art Thou)
NC (vo): But George Clooney's in O Brother, Where Art Thou has made the song a household favorite.
(We see the clip of Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) singing "Man of Constant Sorrow", but his singing is dubbed by Dan Tyminski)
Ulysses Everett McGill: (singing) I am a man...
NC (vo): I don't think that song would be as big a hit if George used his original vocals on that one. But nevertheless, I get the argument. If a dub is really obvious, it can take you out of the moment.
NC: But if an actor isn't a singer, why have them sing? Isn't that the whole reason we watch people to begin with, to see them do things that we can't?
(Two images of the people about to be mentioned are shown)
NC (vo): Gregory Peck is impressive, because he's a better actor than most of the people in the audience. Audra McDonald is impressive, because her singing range is incredible compared to everyone else who's likely listening to her. Both create an emotional reaction with their gifts.
NC: Of course, there are some that can do both.
NC (vo): Idina Menzel, Julie Andrews, Hugh Jackman, the list goes on, but not for an incredibly long time. (A clip of Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp) is shown) Most can either act well and sing bad, or act bad and sing well. (The poster for Glitter is shown) While star power is not quite as huge as it used to be in the past, it still counts for a lot in movies, and having a big name can, and usually does, bring a lot more people in. So the idea of putting in a big draw in a genre that's now becoming popular again is no big shock, but forcing them to be out of their element in a field where people spend years tuning their gifts seems pretty unfair.
NC: Now don't get me wrong, Hollywood is the land of unfair.
(An image of the Phantom of the Opera musical is shown)
NC (vo): But if someone can make you cry with this...
The Phantom (Michael Crawford; singing): This is the point of no return!
NC (vo): ...and it's being replaced with this...
The Phantom (Gerard Butler; singing): This is the point of no return!
NC: ...people are gonna notice.
NC (vo): But there is something interesting that's happening with bad singers in film that can sometimes work in their favor...
NC: Having charm.
(Footage of the two movies about to be mentioned are shown)
NC (vo): Compare, for example, two bad singers in two different films. First, we have Russell Crowe from Les Mis.
Javert: (singing) Lord, let me find him, that I may see him safe behind bars.
NC (vo): Next, we have The Rock from Moana.
Maui (Dwayne Johnson; singing): There's no need to pray, it's okay. You're welcome. Ha! I guess it's just my way of being me!
NC: Even though both of these voices are not especially great, The Rock sounded a lot better, didn't he?
NC (vo): Look at how unfocused, uncomfortable and uninterested Crowe seems. He looks like he's more concerned about carrying a tune rather than being a passionate character. The Rock, on the other hand, listen to his inflections, look at how he's animated, observe how 100% in the moment he is.
Maui: (singing) What can I say except "you're welcome"? For the tides, the sun, the sky...
NC (vo): Despite both these two not being good singers, The Rock is having so much more fun, and doing a much better job of sucking you in that it doesn't even really matter.
NC: Now let's switch it around.
(Footage of Belle (Emma Watson) in Beauty and the Beast and Fantine (Anne Hathaway) from Les Miserables is shown)
NC (vo): Let's have another Disney song with another Les Mis song. Anne Hathaway, by no means, has given the best rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream". (Images of the various singers that performed the song are shown) There are literally dozens of other recordings of singers with powerhouse voices who can do it a lot better. But her (Hathaway's) performance is engaging, gets you invested, makes you feel every ounce of pain this person has gone through.
Fantine (Anne Hathaway; singing): But there are dreams that cannot be, and there are storms we cannot weather.
NC (vo): Compare this to the Beauty and the Beast remake, where poor Emma Watson sounds like she's reading notes in a recording studio rather than discovering her captor might have a redeemable humanity.
Belle (Emma Watson; singing): There's something sweet, and almost kind, but he was mean and he was course and unrefined.
NC (vo): It's so cold, lifeless and robotic that of course we're gonna notice the flaws more, as well as the technical corrections made afterwards.
NC: Now, I know a lot of you really like this movie, so I will say, this role can't be easy.
NC (vo): (beat) Portraying Kristen Stewart portraying Belle has to be difficult.
(The audience is heard booing again, and we see NC with a cloak over his head again)
NC: (imitating Emperor Palpatine) Good, good! Strike me down with all of your hatred, and your journey towards the dark side will be complete!
(Footage of the three movies and actors about to be mentioned is shown)
NC (vo): There's plenty of other actors who have won people over in a similar way, despite them not having the most phenomenal voices. Johnny Depp's madness in Sweeney Todd distracted enough people to get an Oscar nod. Emma Stone (from La La Land) actually won an Oscar, despite her singing being flawed yet beautifully vulnerable. And Disney once again helped Robin Williams' dazzling energy leap off the screen in this larger than life roller coaster.
Genie (Robin Williams; singing): Friend like me!
NC (vo): It's not great singing, but it's a great voice, and sometimes, that's enough.
NC: And bizarrely enough, it can work both ways.
(Footage of My Fair Lady is shown)
NC (vo): In My Fair Lady, Audrey Hepburn is dubbed while Rex Harrison isn't, despite Hepburn obviously having a better voice than him.
(We see Eliza (Audrey Hepburn) singing, with her original voice)
Eliza: (singing) Lots of chocolate for me to eat, lots of coal makin' lots of heat.
(We see Henry (Rex Harrison) singing)
Henry: (singing) Hear a Yorkshireman, or worse, hear a Cornishman converse. I'd rather hear a choir singing flat.
NC (vo): But again, this isn't what was needed for the movie. Her musical sequences needed to be huge and grand, while his musical sequences needed to be snarky and witty. His form of talk-singing, as some people call it, works perfect for what's needed, while Hepburn's good but not great voice would've weakened what was needed in her scenes.
(We see Eliza singing, with two voices, her dubbed voice of Marni Nixon and Hepburn's original voice)
Eliza: (Marni Nixon; singing) I get words all day through, first from him, now from you. Is that all you blighters can do? (Audrey Hepburn) I get words all day through, first from him, now from you. Is that all you blighters can do?
NC (vo): Her voice is totally passable, but it's not huge, and this sequence needed a huge voice. So, yes, there are times where a good singer needs to be replaced with a great one, while a bad singer can just be kept bad, and surprisingly, they can both work.
NC: Sometimes, though, it makes it worse.
(Images of the 2004 version of Phantom of the Opera are shown)
NC (vo): In The Phantom of the Opera, Minnie Driver's dubbed, despite the fact that she can sing, just not great like an opera singer, which was required for the role. Yet everyone else is allowed to use their real voices, despite them obviously struggling like hell. Now, not only do we have non-singers singing, but we have an ACTUAL professional singer to compare them to. That just makes things a million times more awful!
NC: So with all this going back and forth, what does it all amount to? Well, maybe some actors should be dubbed while other actors should be allowed to sing...depending what's needed for the movie.
NC (vo): If a non-singer can pull off the emotion of a scene stronger than a professional singer can, it makes sense to use them. If the emotion of a scene completely rests on how well the song is sung, it should probably go to the dubbing department. The Rock and Hathaway have emotional ups and downs that their vocal flaws can make more effective. It also gives more leeway to hide their weaknesses. Watson and Crowe's short breaths and audio correcting can't be hidden as well in what's supposed to be a grand, sweeping epic. So it would make more sense to dub them over, especially when we have something to compare them to already. It just makes it that much harder to make it their own.
(Two lines from Les Miserables are compared)
Javert (Phillip Quast; singing): This I swear by the stars!
Javert (Russell Crowe; singing): This I swear by the stars!
NC: And to those saying that dubbing takes away from an actor's performance, I say it's like any other special effect.
NC (vo): Some are done great, some are done poorly, but you still work with it to create an illusion that results in a strong emotion. It doesn't matter what means you use to get there or who did the most work, as long as the audience is engaged by what's going on. An actor doesn't insist they do their own special effects makeup, they leave that to the professionals, yet they still have to act with it to suck the audience in.
NC: That's exactly how dubbing is supposed to work, if it's done right.
NC (vo): There's also no shame if someone's not a good singer. A playwright doesn't have to be an actor to get an emotional response. A special effects artist doesn't have to be a writer to suck somebody into a new world. So why would anyone expect an actor also has to be a singer to win an audience over? It's all an illusion, anyway, and the better it dazzles, the more we forget we're just sitting in a seat watching a screen. We instead feel like we're being absorbed into a different environment. So, rather than letting poor actors like Pierce Brosnan...
(Clip of Mamma Mia!)
Sam (Pierce Brosnan; singing): Where are those happy days? They seem so hard to find.
NC (vo): ...or Lee Marvin...
(Clip of Paint Your Wagon)
Ben (Lee Marvin; singing): Wheels are made for rolling, mules are made to pack.
NC: ...embarrass themselves again, just remember, film is a collaborative art form.
(An image of an audience sitting in a movie theater is shown)
NC (vo): As long as the focus is taking people on an amazing journey, people are always ready to hear that music, no matter how it's done or who sings it.
NC: I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to.
(He gets up and leaves. The credits roll)