One midnight gone on the release date of director Rob Marshall’s (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha) take on Stephen Sondheim’s 1986 musical Into The Woods folks! What’s my verdict after seeing it tonight?
Go see it yourself! Most definitely!
A baker and his wife make a deal with an acerbic witch to collect four items from the woods in order to lift their curse and have a baby. Along the way, their storyline intertwines with those of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Jack and the Beanstalk. What awaits them at the end is hardly the ever after most people know.
I have loved this musical fairy-tale mash-up by multiple award-winning composer Stephen Sondheim (Sweeney Todd, Company) for years, as evidenced by my previous posts (for the trailer and for a bit of background). I do, however, have a few pieces of advice.
Firstly, please don’t take your Santa-anticipating kids to this movie on Christmas Eve. It’s 124 minutes, and yes, a lot of that time is filled with Sondheim’s signature verbose lyrics. I adore him for his mastery in this area, telling a story with almost non-stop numbers that some young (chit-chattering) children just won’t grasp. (And some adults, too, considering my annoying neighbor’s mutter of “Oh god, another song?” Grrrr.) The words require you to listen oh-so-carefully to understand both what’s being said and what’s implied.
Amusing (and disturbing) double entendres aside, there’s also the general ambiance of the film. True, there’s no visible blood, and one (or two?) certain character doesn’t perish like s/he does in the stage version, but overall, it’s a heavily-themed story. The colors are all dark grays, browns, and blues (save Red Riding Hood’s hood) to reflect this. Even the gold of Cinderella’s slipper has more of muted, gilded look. The lightest color is actually Rapunzel’s blond and pink bedroom, and the funniest moments are stolen by the two competitively vain princes. (Though, was this ever a doubt?)
Marshall and screen/musical-writer James Lapine chopped off a handful of musical numbers in order to lighten one of the storylines, methinks. That, or they just needed to fit the movie into a certain
shoe size timeframe. The reprisals are missing (as in, the second “Agony,” unfortunately), along with “First Midnight,” “Second Midnight,” “So Happy,” “Ever After,” and “No More.” (I may have missed one; not sure.)
BUT they did keep “Any Moment” for all those in an uproar about it possibly being excised entirely. Do keep in mind, though, that this is still Disney we’re talking about here. No explicit infidelity of the sexual kind involved. Oh, and they also shortened “Witch’s Lament.”
In the end, I don’t really mind. The movie is simply beautiful to watch. The characters caught in pleasing frames and poses that defined their personalities; the pacing driven but not rushed even with the tweaks; the couture-evoking style of the witch’s dress – all very well done.
However, what would bring me back to watch Into the Woods again in theaters are the actors. Hands down.
I was disappointed in Mamma Mia! (2008), but I needn’t have worried about the lioness that is triple-Academy-Award-winner Meryl Streep (Devil Wears Prada, Doubt) doing spectacularly in this musical as The Witch. God, I almost teared-up when she sang “Stay With Me.” I mean, what the hell? How did she evoke empathy while simultaneously exuding the menace of Mother Gothel intent on locking up her stolen daughter in a tower forever? It must have been the crazy hair.
Joining Streep again on the big screen was Emily Blunt (Devil Wears Prada, Edge of Tomorrow, The Young Victoria) who also performed magnificently as The Baker’s Wife. There were so many moments she said more with her eyes and uncertain silences than she did with words. Kudos.
James Corden from Begin Again (2013) portrayed her brave but forgetful husband to a tee, and it’s probably ‘cause I feel like hugging him whenever I see his face. Like a teddy bear, he is! Seriously though, he made me laugh, and it’s an innocent sort of humor the story needed.
On the other hand, there was the almost outrageously overdone hilarity from the Princes Charming. Both Chris Pine (Star Trek, Jack Ryan) and Billy Magnussen (The East, As the World Turns) toed that line admirably, and I’m positive their duet “Agony” will be a regularly viewed clip on YouTube someday. (God, I’m still laughing about it.)
And of course, Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect) serenaded us superbly as the uncertain Cinderella. Daniel Huttlestone held his own as Jack and Lilla Crawford surprised many with her slightly blood-thirsty Little Red. All around fantastic cast!
Into the Woods is a cautionary tale about how parents raise children on wishes. It’s hard truth; it’s being careful to know what you want before you work so hard to get it. Basically it’s a huge allegory (that some die-hard Disney fans may have fiercely contested had some endings remained the same). However, there were reasons that the original Broadway production won so many Tony Awards in 1988 (and more in the London production (1991), the London revivals, and the Broadway revival (2002)).
So go see the movie and let me know what you think. Anyone performed in a stage version of it? If so, what character?
In the meantime, MERRY CHRISTMAS, you lovely villains!
(I need to sleep now because I have to get up in five hours to go to work. Ciao!)
Rating: A – Lovely and memorable film adaptation with beautiful settings and costuming. No cringe-worthy vocal performances; on the contrary, they were a delight to hear.
ASV Villainy Rating: E — Evil Genius, but this is a heavy MAYBE. We never know for certain what the limits of the The Witch’s powers are or how wide their kingdom and the forces outside it. There are giants, yes, but if the heroes of the tale were evil bastards, then it’d be the Princes waging war on the giants and vice versa. Or perhaps it’d be a handful of giants trying to better the lives of the petty little folk below who have no wishes of their own, only to be betrayed for their good intentions and slain for all their gold possessions. . . oh wait a minute. . . .