From West Side Story to Wall-E: five inspirations for La La Land’s dance scenes

Routines from films and animations as diverse as Top Hat and Beauty and the Beast inspired La La Land choreographer Mandy Moore

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 January, 2017, 9:01am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 January, 2017, 9:00am

While watching the dance sequences in La La Land, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers might come to mind. Astute viewers might also think of … Wall-E?

According to choreographer Mandy Moore (not the singer), who crafted the dance numbers for the movie starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as tapping, waltzing lovers, decades-old musicals and more recent animated movies all served as inspiration for the Damien Chazelle movie.

Here are five references that Moore draws from to create the La La Land routines.

1. Isn’t This A Lovely Day from Top Hat

This specific routine from 1935’s Top Hat was the primary inspiration for a tap number that Stone and Gosling perform at sunset on a hill as they’re falling in love. In the original number, dance pros Astaire and Rogers flirt while effortlessly showcasing expert footwork. In order for a similarly styled routine to work for the La La Land actors, Moore knew she had to “instil a feel and love of learning dance” early on, so their movements weren’t mechanical. The sequence was shot in one take, just like in Top Hat, and featured many similar (though less challenging) taps and turns.

2. Wall-E being propelled by a fire extinguisher

In Pixar’s 2008 film Wall-E, the titular robot uses a fire extinguisher to propel himself through outer space. For La La Land’s floating waltz sequence that takes place in a planetarium, Chazelle wanted Gosling and Stone to look as though they were jetting through the air in a similar way. Wire work was required.

3. Beast and Belle dancing

Another Disney movie that influenced the look of the waltz scene? 1991’s Beauty and the Beast. In the animated film, a waltz between the main characters is shown from what looks like a soaring camera that flies above the twirling dancers and gets in close. Chazelle wanted similar sweeping movements and camera angles for his magical dance number.

4. Maria’s accessorising in I Feel Pretty

In the 1961 musical movie West Side Story, Maria (Natalie Wood) playfully sings with her girlfriends as she puts on different accessories while getting ready to go out. In La La Land, Stone acts just like Wood as she reluctantly dresses to go to a party with her roommates. She sings, dances and even does a similar dress-flinging move for the first part of Someone in the Crowd.

5. The Rich Man’s Frug

1969’s film version of Sweet Charity has a song called The Rich Man’s Frug, which has a group of dancers performing at a VIP party in director Bob Fosse’s signature angular choreography. “Damien [Chazelle] loved the shapes of that time and Fosse,” says Moore, so the second part of Someone in the Crowdhas party-goers at a hip LA soirée arching their backs and bending their arms in Fosse-like sharp angles.

La La Land opens on January 26