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posted: 3/18/2017 7:15 AM

Actors first, singers second: The best examples before 'Beauty and the Beast'

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  • Anne Hathaway starred as Fantine in "Les Miserables."

    Anne Hathaway starred as Fantine in "Les Miserables."


"Harry Potter" co-star Emma Watson is known for incanting spells, not intoning songs, but she's tackling the lead role of Belle in this weekend's remake of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast."

Reactions to her take on the song named for her character are mixed at best -- I think it somehow sounds flat and auto-tuned at the same time -- but perhaps the full film will reveal talents that young Hermione Granger never showed us at Hogwarts.

Watson joins a long line of movie stars cast in musicals despite not being known for their singing; here are some of the best recent examples:

• Anne Hathaway, "Les Miserables." Director Tom Hooper sabotages his 2012 adaptation of the stage musical with borderline-grotesque close-ups and lifeless staging -- not to mention the casting of Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert -- but hiring Hathaway to play Fantine was a masterstroke. Her raw, rousing performance of "I Dreamed a Dream" won her the best supporting actress Oscar just a few years removed from appearing in stinkers like "Bride Wars" and "Valentine's Day."

• Catherine Zeta-Jones, "Chicago." Another stage adaptation, another Oscar for best supporting actress. The key difference: "Chicago" is a fabulous movie musical. (Darn near perfect, if you ask me.) As showgirl-turned-murderer Velma Kelly, Zeta-Jones grabs our attention immediately with the 2002 film's opening number, "All That Jazz," and never lets go. "Chicago" is available for streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor starred in "Moulin Rouge!"
Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor starred in "Moulin Rouge!"

• Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman, "Moulin Rouge!" Baz Luhrmann's anachronistic, anarchic pastiche leans heavily on spectacle, but it wouldn't work without two strong lead performances. McGregor and Kidman win us over with the so-called "Elephant Love Medley," in which two star-crossed lovers in 1900 France flirt by singing pop songs that wouldn't be written until 70 years later, but the real fireworks come with the wistful, catchy original song, "Come What May." Fans of the 2001 film should seek out the fully loaded (yet cheap) Blu-ray release.

John C. Reilly played the title character in "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story."
John C. Reilly played the title character in "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story." -

• John C. Reilly, "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story." This riff on music biopics like "Walk the Line" is better than the films it satirizes, thanks to Reilly's hilarious performance as an ever-evolving singer-songwriter. The Chicago native does his own Johnny Cash-inspired singing and guitar-playing in this 2007 flop with a cast packed full of TV favorites: Kristen Wiig, Jenna Fischer, Margo Martindale, Chris Parnell, Tim Meadows, David Krumholtz, Craig Robinson, Simon Helberg, Ed Helms, Jane Lynch ... the list goes on. "Walk Hard" is an underrated, underseen gem.

• Sean Stangland is a Daily Herald multiplatform editor. You can follow him on Twitter at @SeanStanglandDH.

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