Brow Beat

Why the Heck Did Rocketman Totally Skip the ’90s?

No Madonna feud? No weird Lion King number?

Photo illustration of Taron Egerton in Rocketman and The Lion King.
Photo illustraiton by Slate. Photos by Paramount and Disney.

According to the movie Rocketman, which purports to tell the life story of Elton John, John didn’t exist between 1983 and roughly now-ish. I take issue with this: I remember the ’90s and can attest to the fact that Elton John was there the whole time. You wouldn’t know it from the movie, however, which skips right from the early ’80s to essentially the present day with one of those post-film real-life photo slideshows to reveal that John is now happily married with two children and a meant-to-be-a-joke-I-think shopping addiction. I’m convinced that this is both an artistic and commercial mistake and that the movie’s story should have extended at least into the ’90s.

In its current incarnation, Rocketman covers Elton John’s childhood, his rise to fame, his glory days, and his descent into addiction and self-destruction, with a framing device of John looking back from rehab. The ending is spectacularly anticlimactic: Taron Egerton, as John, monologues about all he’s learned and sings “I’m Still Standing,” which, while thematically appropriate, is no one’s favorite Elton John song. It’s no way to end a movie! Everyone knows you have to have a big closing number that brings the house down. Also, hello, it’s only 1983, what a weird place to stop the story! To apply the logic of Seinfeld, one can’t “yada, yada” 35 years. We were there; it happened; it was eventful.

Ending a story on a high note when it’s a biopic about a star whose heyday is behind him presents a narrative challenge—but only if one takes it as a given that John’s heyday was behind him by the rest of the ’80s and beyond. Surely this film doesn’t want to look like it buys into the false premise that it’s all downhill after youth? Plus, John was such a strong cultural presence in the ’90s, a fixture on red carpets and at awards shows, that it seems bizarre not to include those years in any film about his life. John went Hollywood by writing the music for The Lion King, which went from blockbuster movie to legendary hit Broadway musical. “Candle in the Wind 1997,” the rewritten song he released in tribute to Princess Diana after her death, became one of the bestselling singles in history and a crucial cultural moment. Both “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” and “Candle,” at least, deserve to be musical numbers in the best version of this movie. Would they stick out tonally from the rest of it? Perhaps, but our only fealty must be to art and truth.

Besides, baby boomers may know John as a star from the 1970s, but to millennials, he was the Lion King and “Candle in the Wind” guy. Can you say cross-demo appeal? Throw the millennials a scene of John meeting Jonathan Taylor Thomas, the voice of Simba, on the red carpet—they’ll eat it up! There’s also ample opportunity to depict John’s many famous, and zeitgeist-y, friends and enemies. Without getting too Lifetime-y, I would love to see his feud with Madonna portrayed on screen. Leaving it out is honestly an insult to Pride Month. Plus, the ’90s are also when John met his husband. A third-act love story? Yes, please!

The only real problem I can see is how to wring more recognizable musical numbers out of these last three decades, which, while productive, do lack as many chart-topping hits of earlier periods in John’s career. Then I had a good idea, which is that John should just write a new hit song to go with this movie. Seems about as doable as all the other changes I’m requesting. Please let me know.