It’s Not Just Another Movie Singalong – It’s A Quasi-Spontaneous Musical Jubilation En Masse

I have found few cinematic phenomena to be more gratifying than well-scripted spontaneity.

And, of the multitude of scenes exemplifying that trait, the most heartwarming and most reliably satisfying, it seems to me, are those sequences which feature a group of cast members breaking into an informal, joyous sing-along, dance-along, or sing-&-dance-along, suffusing the moment with warmth, affection, and good will.

It was inevitable, I suppose, that this notion, which has been bouncing around my mind for some time, would, through sheer Brownian Motion, crash into my fascination with taxonomy.

Now, identifying one example that fits a description of this sort means little in terms of categorization unless one fudges the concept to indulge in the convenience of the sui generis designation.

And, identifying two cases of this type of scene could be a fluke.

But discovering three or more? That means something.

It means a naming opportunity.

Name It & Claim It

Why is naming a big deal? Because naming a discovery, an invention, an hypothesis, or whatever seems to trump everything else. I can recall reading, on several occasions, something on the lines of “Although known as Smith’s Syndrome, this disorder is now acknowledged to have been described by Jones fully 22 years earlier.” There is no clamor, however, to rename such an injustice. This is still America, after all, the namesake of Amerigo Vespucci because A.V. was a decent cartographer and a better self-promoter, not because he was the discoverer.

So, let’s name this sucker.

It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s A Convention

I’m not hubristic enough to suggest that I am qualified to authoritatively designate a primary cinematic classification. After all, I’ve got a batch of chores to finish today, and I need to gather some groceries before the weekend. Plus, and I really didn’t sleep that well last night. So, I personally don’t feel up to establishing something on the order of, say, German Expressionism or even a basic concept such as continuity editing.

Even a major convention on the order of Chekhov’s Gun1 is beyond my scope.

No, I think we’re talking about a minor convention – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The Literature Search

My research (i.e., fooling around with Google for six minutes and spending another eight minutes skimming a copy of the delightful Ebert’s Bigger Little Movie Glossary: A Greatly Expanded and Much Improved Compendium of Movies Clichés, Stereotypes, Obligatory Scenes, Hackneyed Formulas, Shopworn Conventions and Outdated Archetypes by Roger Ebert that I found in our bookshelves)2 conclusively demonstrates at a confidence level of I’m pretty darn sure that movie scenes of spontaneous group singing and dancing have been much admired but have never been adequately categorized and certainly have never been given a fancy-schmancy label.

Defining The Quasi-Spontaneous Musical Jubilation En Masse

Essential Criteria

The scene must

  1. Involve at least three cast members (and preferably more) who each wholeheartedly participate in singing, dancing, or both
  2. Be spontaneous. At the least, the singing/dancing is unscheduled. (E.g., in Sister Act, the choir’s performances would not be eligible; if the nuns had broken into a retro-disco sequence during vespers, however, that might be eligible)
  3. Consist of a discrete episode featuring a single song
  4. Bond the participants
  5. Cause joyfulness in the participant.

Exclusionary Criteria

The scene cannot

  1. Occur in a musical (e.g., Moulin Rouge, Chicago, Rent), any other film that has music as its core (e.g., Woodstock), or a movie that is a vehicle for the stars to sing (e.g., several of the Elvis Presley movies and Everyone Says I Love You) unless the scene takes place outside that structure (see #2 of “Essential Criteria” above)
  2. Have as its motivation the enjoyment of or requirements by non-participants. The premise must be that the singing/dancing is done for the participants own enjoyment. (E.g., the “Camptown Ladies” scene in Blazing Saddles is performed at the demand of the foreman, not for the pleasure of the singers)
  3. Involve participants who are clearly fantasy creatures (e.g., Willie Wonka and animated cartoons)

Prime Specimens

The Big Chill


The Quasi-Spontaneous Musical Jubilation En Masse Scene:
The entire group of friends dances to and, to a lesser extent, sings along with an LP of The Temptations “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” while cleaning up after the pasta dinner.


Almost Famous


The Quasi-Spontaneous Musical Jubilation En Masse Scene:
On the bus, the band, the band manager, the groupies, the hangers-on, and the rest all join in singing Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer”



Wayne’s World


The Quasi-Spontaneous Musical Jubilation En Masse Scene:
Wayne, Garth, and two friends in the car do a head-banging version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”3



My Best Friend’s Wedding


The Quasi-Spontaneous Musical Jubilation En Masse Scene:
At a dinner held in a seafood restaurant, George, pretending to be Julianne’s fiancée, breaks out into a rendition of Dionne Warwick’s “I Say a Little Prayer,” which soon has all the relatives seated at the same table chiming in. The restaurant’s piano player joins in as do all the other customers and staff. Don’t miss the staff wearing giant lobster claws waving them in the background.



Update: See Addition To Quasi-Spontaneous Musical Jubilation En Masse Catalog: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – Twist And Shout

Note: Originally posted Aug 24, 2006 at, a predecessor of


  1. Chekhov’s Gun is a literary technique in which an element (for example, an object or a minor character) is introduced early in a story with the expectation that (1) the audience will make a mental note of it and (2) that element will come into play in before the story is over, even if the element vanishes until it is finally put to use. The name derives from the cliché that revealing a gun in the first act requires it to be fired by the end of the play, movie, or TV show. Chekhov gets the titular credit because he kept talking and writing letters about the idea (e.g., “One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.” Anton Chekhov, letter to Aleksandr Semenovich Lazarev, dated November 1, 1889) []
  2. I also surveyed the entire corpus of medical literature only to find that well controlled, double-blind clinical studies pertinent to this convention were conspicuously and shamefully absent. []
  3. The use of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the film propelled the song to #2 in Billboard singles charts nearly 20 years after its first release. The soundtrack album reached number one in the Billboard album charts. []

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