DaWaRou Posts: Into the Woods

Let’s get this shit started! I’m Cortez and this is a post for The Broken Infinite. 2014 has been an…interesting year for movies. Most of the ones that’ve come out have been…good, I suppose…I really only saw a few of them, but of the ones I did see the one I’ve been most excited about for months has been the subject of today’s review, the big budget feature film adaptation of Stephen Sodenhiem’s Tony award winning musical, Into the Woods.

Look at all the big name celebrities...OH and two broadway stars made the poster!
Look at all the big name celebrities…OH and two Broadway stars made the poster!

Starring a veritable blitzkrieg of celebrities, Into the Woods is the big budget musical of the year and it certainly comes off that way. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The plot is this: In a far off kingdom at the edge of the woods live a host of fairy tale characters. Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) wishes to attend the kings festival, Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) of the Beanstalk fame wishes for his cow to give milk, while a Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) wish to have a child. Simple enough. But it turns out that a Witch (Meryl Streep) has placed a curse on the Baker and his family leaving them unable to conceive. So she gives them a mission. Assemble for her 4 particular items; a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold. So the Baker and his Wife along with Cinderella, Jack and Little Red Riding Hood all venture into the woods to make their wishes come true.

The first hour of the movie, like the musical, plays out our fairy tales as we know them…if we’re at all familiar with the Brother’s Grimm’s writings of them. Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford)  ventures off to Grandma’s and comes across a Wolf (Johnny Depp) who diverts her from her path. Jack trades his beloved cow Milky White for magic beans given to him by the Baker and his Wife and then makes his grand adventure up the beanstalk and down…and back up again twice. Cinderella attends the ball and catches the eye of the Prince (Chris Pine) and we even have Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) lowering her long golden hair to any and all who come across her tower including her adoptive mother, the Witch, and another Prince (Billy Magnussen) who falls in love with her. But the true story here belongs to the Baker and his Wife who interact with all these characters in order to collect the essential items and have their baby. And they do. In fact at the end of the first hour, EVERYONE gets what they want. But then comes the second act for which the original musical is so well known for. In this act, all the fairy tales are flipped on their heads as these careless wishes now come back to bite our cast in the behind. There’s loss, death and drama and no one at the end of this lives happily ever after.

So, let’s get to all the negatives before we address the positives. First of all, the film feels a touch rushed and somewhat drags in places. Another problem is when the songs are more memorable than the acting itself. That’s not to say that the acting isn’t great but the songs are more the highlight of the film. There are also too many stories in this one movie. The original musical combines no less than four and alludes to no more than 6 fairy tales and if we count the story of the Baker and his Wife, we’ve got seven! There’s far too much going on and we constantly have to check back in to see what Cinderella or Jack or Little Red or the Baker is doing. What’s more is that not even all the Fairy Tales included are entirely relevant to the narrative. We need “hair as yellow as corn” and we could’ve just as easily plucked the hair from some blonde rather than have to include Rapunzel who really doesn’t add that much to the plot, especially when its revealed that the Witch can’t have touched the objects she’s sent the Baker and his Wife to retrieve. That said I won’t say that she’s entirely superfluous, nor is her Prince…not entirely anyways. The big problem though, ties into the first ones I listed, is that the pacing is rather wonky. Not to say that the narrative doesn’t flow well, but we’re constantly having to jump back and forth from story to story as if not a single one of them could’ve held the audiences attention all on their own. No, now we have to combine a crap ton of Fairy Tales to form an overlapping storyline in which none of our main characters truly feel like the main characters, and the supporting cast feels rather tacked on. Like, why the fuck do we even have Cinderella’s stepfamily or Jack’s mother or the Baker’s father or even Rapunzel and her Prince, or for that matter the Prince’s Steward or Red’s grandma. Why are they in the movie? Cause…they’re in the musical…I suppose. In all honesty, this story could’ve simply just been about the Baker and his Wife and we could’ve just had cameos of all the other Fairy Tale characters. It probably would’ve benefited from a more streamlined plot because looking at this film’s structure reminds me of the structure of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 which is still a good movie, just confused as to which story it wants to tell. But Into the Woods is different because not only does it want to tell all these stories, it wants to tell two additional ones as well and in order for the full effect to be felt it does need to tell all of these stories. But for those of you who want to bitch and moan about Jack being too young or the actors not having the right vocal ranges for their roles, I kindly ask you to shove your complaints up your ass with a couple of pinecones. Of course Jack is made younger. This is a Disney film so of course they want to appeal to a younger audience. Disney is a company and first and foremost they need to make money. I get the whole demographic thing and I get that the big joke of the actual musical is that Jack is supposed to be a young man who’s implied to be a bit slow but honestly in the original story Jack’s meant to be a young boy so I’m not going to be picky about it. As for the actors not being in the right vocal ranges, Stephen Sodenhiem personally approved of the casting so what’s the point of bitching?

And this leads to the flip side of the coin, the positives! First of all, the music is AMAZING! Lifted straight from the original musical, Into the Woods the movie sports no less than 18 songs…19 if you truly count Cinderella at the Grave as an out and out musical number…but I don’t so 18. Each of the numbers is bursting with heartfelt emotion and demonstrates exactly how each of the characters is feeling at any particular moment. And what’s more, the music doesn’t exactly serve the purpose of advancing the plot but each number is more of an introspective moment or used to exposit dialogue in a more enjoyable way…and slightly faster. What’s more is that our cast can actually sing! Not surprising for Anna Kendrick, Billy Magnussen, Lilla Crawford, Mackenzie Mauzy and Daniel Huttlestone. All but the last have actual Broadway experience and Daniel was in Les Miserables.  No, it’s everyone else who knocks their songs out of the park unexpectedly. Chris Pine serenades us with Billy Magnussen in a duet of “Agony” in which the two princes exclaim their desire for the unattainable women in their lives (respectively Cinderella and Rapunzel) and further manages to seduce the Bakers Wife with “Any Moment”. Johnny Depp achieves a similar feat with “Hello Little Girl” in which he diverts Little Red from her destination all with the intent to…eat her…I think. Both Emily Blunt and James Corden nail “It Takes Two” in which the couple come together determined to get their child but Emily truly shines when she does “Moments in the Woods” after getting seduced by the Prince she expresses all the emotions of one in that situation. Probably the standout of the actors is Meryl Streep. She delivers her lines with such character that it’s almost entrancing and then when she does her standout song “Last Midnight”…it just sent chills down my spine…the good chills. As for our Broadway stars and Anna Kendrick, they all perform excellently. Lilla Crawford does perfectly with “I Know Things Now” and Anna Kendrick hits a homerun with “On the Steps of the Palace”. If you’re wondering why I’m not praising the efforts of Mackenzie Mauzy…well it’s because all the singing she does is simply vocalizing “Ah Ah Ah…” and all that. But besides the singing, the acting is also incredible. Everyone sells their parts so believably but it’s a shame that you really only walk out of the theater remembering the music and…Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt. Even Chris Pine hamming it up as the Prince is kind of drowned out but just the music being so memorable. I’ll also give the movie this…its’ probably the first time I’ll ever call Johnny Depp a saving grace. Despite the two scenes he’s given, and really it’s only ONE scene, Johnny Depp displays a certain…subtlety while still hamming it up with Chris and Meryl. The two child actors are great as well, managing to capture the full attention of the audience every scene they’re in and Little Red even has some of the better lines. Even our supporting cast is good with Tracy Ulman as Jack’s exasperated mother and Christine Baranski as Cinderella’s Stepmother. The set design is also amazing as is the costume design and I feel that the most important thing that the movie still manages to retain the messages of the musical.

 While Into the Woods is certainly not the first modern fairy tale adaptation to take a darker turn than typical Disney fare, it certainly stands out as probably being the best at doing what it does, that being taking Fairy Tales and actually doing them justice. Sure you’ve got Once Upon a Time doing that but at this point it’s crawled so far up its own ass I’m not even sure what it’s trying to do. As an adaptation, Into the Woods honors the spirit of it’s source material by teaching several different lessons. First of all, wanting is better than having. The first song of the movie constantly features the words “I Wish…”. Cinderella wishes to attend the kings festival, the Baker and his wife wish for a child, Jack and his mother wish for the cow to give milk and for money, and even Little Red wishes to acquire some sweets for her granny. It’s ultimately the Witch’s wish that sets the Baker and his wife on their quest for the items and even the side characters have wishes of their own. Rapunzel wishes to see the world, each Prince wishes for the unattainable maiden and the stepmother wishes for at least one of her daughters to catch the eye of the Prince. That’s not say that one shouldn’t seek out what one desires but one needs to do it…tactfully. Which brings about another lesson of not to just run about doing whatever you please. The Baker wants to obtain the items and break the curse without resorting to treachery or deceit while his wife simply wants a child and will do whatever it takes to get that baby. She’s the one who attempts to steal Cinderella’s slipper and obviously has no moral qualms against doing so, she’s the one who incites the trading of Milky White for five beans and she’s the one who steals Rapunzel’s hair. That’s to say nothing of Jack himself who repeatedly goes up and down the beanstalk as he pleases for nothing more than to acquire more gold and treasure. Another big moral is how “nice is different than good” and this is largely played with all the characters. Most of the characters are nice. They act respectfully to one another for the most part. But that doesn’t make them good people. The Witch isn’t nice but she is right when she says that they should give Jack to the Giant. He needs to own up to what he did. Conversely the Wolf is very nice to Little Red but he most CERTAINLY is not good nor are his intentions toward the girl. And most importantly, I think is how the film plays with the relationships between parents and children. Jack, Little Red, Rapunzel and Cinderella all disobey their parental figures by doing what they want to do. Little Red strays from the path, Jack sells his cow not for money but for beans, Rapunzel seeks the company of a handsome Prince and desires to leave her tower and Cinderella disobeys her stepfamily and journeys to the festival. On the flip side of the coin we have the Baker, haunted by the past actions of his father desires to be good father but the film adds the fact that he’s scared of becoming like his father and failing to be one. And then there’s the line that speaks for itself, “Children will listen” implying and stating that your actions and the things you say will, for good or bad, affect your children and the next generation.

So, what’s the final word on Into the Woods? Well, I personally got everything that I wanted to get out of it. Into the Woods is a film that truly honors the spirit of it’s source material. It’s faithful enough that fans of the musical shouldn’t be too offended and does enough of it’s own thing to still be considered something new and fresh as rarely do Fairy Tale themed movies and shows hit all the notes as this one does. Is it perfect? No, not in the slightest but adaptation wise it’s pretty damn good and we’re honestly never going to get another adaptation as good as this one. Yes things are changed but more for time constraints or demographic appeal than just not giving a shit as is the case with so many other adaptations. The casting is stellar, the music is enjoyable, the dialogue is full of great lines, the set and costume design are simply breathtaking and overall, it’s a really solid film. I give it 4.5 out of 5. I’m John Cortez and this is my first post of the year. I resolve to write more and to encourage others no to tempt the wolf or steal from the giant. DaWaRou~!