movies: into the woods

into the woods
How do you get Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Prince Charming, The Big Bad Wolf, Jack (of the Beanstalk variety) and the quintessential fairy tale witch all into one story?

With a magical curse that must be broken before midnight by the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn and the slipper as pure as gold. And then you send them all Into The Woods.

I will say right off the bat that there's just something weird about the Sondheim style... there's a discordance to a lot of the music that isn't always necessarily bad, but it does stand out and can be a little off-putting and distracting at times. I also feel like this movie and Sweeney Todd essentially have the same musical beats a lot of the time, especially in regards to a lot of the incidental/minor stuff.

However, while this did have a degree of that "singing when you should be speaking" thing that tends to irk me about "modern (non-Disney) musicals", it was much less annoying here, in part I think because of the repetition of lyric beats (and can we just pause here to underline how much I absolutely DO NOT know about music, so I'm going to be making up words left, right and centre) it really worked.

One of the things that does tend to be a problem in this kind of musical, for me anyway, is the lack of actual "songs". More so that because there's so much singing and sing-speaking and falling in and out of songs, I come away from the movie without being about to really distil or remember a beginning to end song properly. There are a couple, but I more remember that there's just a beanstalk load full of singing mostly. And they're not things that you walk away singing to yourself (the only thing I can, once again, think to compare it to are Disney animated musicals... Frozen most recently... there's no equivalent to "Let it go" or "Do you wanna build a snowman")... sure I've got the "Into the Woods" snippet rolling around in my head, but that's literally just the one line.

And it's not necessarily a criticism, more of an observation.

I also knew it was a "dark" story going in... again, the comparison comes back to Sweeney Todd... even though it's fairy tales and you expect it to be all light and fluffy and Disney (and I know, it's released by Disney... so that's just confusing right there)... but it's definitely not that.

As they say at the end of the opening song... "Into the woods, then out of the woods, and home before it's dark!"... and you know then that it's going to get pretty damn dark before they find their way out of the wood.

That was actually one of the things I really liked about the story... they use a lot of the really nasty, horrible things (even though this Disney version did... tidy up the story a little by having some of the characters die off-screen) that happen in the original versions of the fairy tales. Characters get blinded, toes are cut off, the wolf is really damn creepy... and that's while they're mostly still sticking to the pure fairy tales in the first two thirds of the movie. The last third is where the stories "fall apart" from the tales you're used to and things get much weirder.

It's also something of a strange cast. Good, and to a one they handle their singing duties brilliantly, but it's a strange collection of actors.

Just from the movie poster along there's Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Emily Blunt, Tracey Ullman, Johnny Depp and Chris Pine.

And I'd just like to publicly apologise to Pine because I just assumed, given the deep, booming and over the top nature of his voice that he'd been dubbed... but if the internet is to believed, it's all him. And it's impressive.

Actually the Agony number Pine has with the very beautiful and blonde Billy Magnussen, as the unfortunately named The Other Prince, was one of my favourite sequences... it's so incredibly over the top and broad and comic. Plus, Magnussen in tight black leather and Pine in somewhat revealing velvet trying to out-Prince each other.

Corden and Blunt are really the emotional thread that runs through the whole story as the childless (and nameless) Baker and his Wife, and they're incredibly sweet together. And Streep is glorious as the witch.

I will say that Lilla Crawford who plays Riding Hood skates just on the line of being overly precocious and annoying... combing that with the fact that Depp is playing the Big Bad Wolf, and I was kind of rooting for the wolf. But there is a degree of humour she brings to her first scene that keeps it on that line and doesn't crossing it to much.

Having read some of the trivia online about the movie it said that Mackenzie Mauzy's Rapunzel subplot was re-written... and they seem to have re-written it mostly out of existence, or at least it felt that way... it's one of the few storylines that really just fizzles out and doesn't properly connect back to the rest of the story.

It is a good looking movie though... from the costumes to the sets to the overall cinematography from Dion Beebe who also shot, amongst other things, the two previous musicals directed by Rob Marshall.

While it does have it's flaws and foibles, its a good musical overall with a decent sense of humour and an emotional undercurrent.

yani's rating: 3 wishes out of 5

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