Movie Review: Into the Woods

intothewoodsLet me start by saying that Into the Woods is one of my top five all time favorite musicals. I remember renting the VHS of the recorded stage version from the 80s and watching it over and over and over and over and…well, you get the point.

All that obsession was justified because in my junior year we actually convinced our high school chorus director to mount the show as our Spring musical! We brought in a professional director from the community and built real sets with real stage magic and even had the MTI OrchExtra to make Sondheim’s beautiful and complex score soar above the typical high school musical in the 90s.

Auditions came and though I would have preferred to be the Witch or even Cinderella, I was cast as Little Red Ridinghood. I know now that this was the best choice for me and I worked so hard to get cast. I was really upset when I found out I was double cast (as were most of us) so that more people who have the opportunity to participate. I was only supposed to have two out of four performances. I’m not sure how I managed to get three out of four in the end…anyway, doing that show was definitive for my life and it was one of the most memorable and special times I ever had in high school. Surprisingly, until a couple of years ago, I had never seen any professional version of the show live.

I finally got the chance to see the live show when it was playing a the Delcourt Theatre as part of Shakespeare in the Park. I got up early and trekked out to to Central Park at 7am to wait in line to get my free tickets. They pass out tickets around 2pm and we made the cut! Our seats were great and the show was amazing–especially the Giant who was played by one super awesome multi-faceted puppet. The cast was wonderful and the direction pretty much perfect. The Narrator was played by the Baker’s son–a bold and beautiful choice that made me cry from the very first line to the final chord. I ended up seeing the show in the park a second time as well. I cried through that performance, too. I have a habit of crying during great musicals. I love them so much!!

So back to the movie. After some technical difficulties, I saw it last night.

SPOILERS AHEAD! (You’ve been warned!)

I’ve been totally psyched up since the first announcements came out months (years?) ago. I read many of the stories about how it was going to be great or awful or whatever. I have been to the Lincoln Center AMC where they have some of the costumes on display by the amazing Colleen Atwood. On Christmas day, I read several reviews that ranged from glowing to mediocre to pan-erific. I wanted to be prepared in case it didn’t live up to my hopes. I tried not to expect too much; and given how much I love this show, I just was hoping they wouldn’t completely ruin it. I can’t imagine that Sondheim would let them ruin it.

For the most part, I was pleasantly pleased with the movie as a whole. I’m so glad they cast actors who can sing AND act. Meryl Streep was a great Witch and perhaps the only person to come close to Bernadette. There were only one or two times I would have preferred she sang the notes rather than growl/scream them especially in Stay With Me. James Corden was perfectly cast as the Baker with Emily Blunt as his wife. They were cute together and stood well on their own, too. The only part I didn’t love was when the Baker broke down and cried instead of singing No More. Though, I am happy that song was cut (as opposed to others). In fact, the other song cuts were perfectly unmissed mostly because they kept the underscoring during the scenes. And I understand that they had to tone it down for the Disney audience, so I was glad that the tone of the second act was not compromised by losing some of the death and sadness. It was still super sad! I feel bad for parents of small children thinking they went to see a cute little fairy tale story who now have a lot of explaining to do.

I really felt like every actor was first rate and there was not a weak one in the bunch. Anna Kendrick was an adorable Cinderella with a lovely voice and sweet disposition.  The two youngest stood out to me as top notch. Daniel Huttlestone had already charmed me as Gavrouche, but he truly shone as Jack. I’m glad they cast Jack as a real boy as opposed to a manchild. It really changes the way the audience sees the character. And I loved Tracy Ullman as Jack’s Mother. Lilla Crawford is a tiny little diva in her own right. As Little Red was my own part in high school, I am very picky about anyone else playing the role. And I thought she was perfect! Yes, it was creepy to see Johnny Depp as the wolf sing a very double-entendred number to a 12-year-old, but Hello, Little Girl is supposed to be creepy and upsetting. I don’t think the movie took it too far by casting a child. I had read reviews that really panned the movie’s version of Agony, but I loved it and it was the only time when the people in my movie theater actually woke up and laughed.

My only beef with the whole thing was Rob Marshall’s half-hearted direction. It seemed like he basically just said to the actors, “go” and then he turned the camera on and followed them around. I was disappointed with the lack of anything really interesting happening either at the beginning or the end. Marshall could have taken a page from the Central Park production and done something to make the opening and/or ending more iconic. Even the movie version of Les Miserables (which I do not have as high an opinion) started and ended with a bang rather than a whimper. Even if it is on film, Musical Theatre should be THEATRICAL!

Overall, I thought the movie was a faithful adaptation with an all-star super talented cast performing one of the world’s greatest scores and innovative stories. Certainly more complex and interesting a story you won’t find in most Hollywood blockbusters. I also want to end by praising the costume design by one of my designer heroes, Colleen Atwood. There were times I could not take my eyes of the details of their clothes. LOVE! LOVE! LOVE IT!!

Thanks Disney for finally getting this movie made for me and hopefully many others to enjoy for many years to come!

Now, if you haven’t seen it: GO TO THE WOODS!

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Thanks for musing with bananagrapes!

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