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Into The Woods (Flick’s Review)

Posted on | January 2, 2015 | 1 Comment

I traveled into the woods with a different perspective than some. I had never seen the play and was not familiar with Sondheim at all, other than knowing who he was. But, the story? The characters in the film read like a “best of” of fantasy storybooks, all conceived by the Brothers Grimm. Rapunzel, Jack (and his beanstalk), Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and more all come together. So why did Sondheim throw them all together into one big interwoven fairytale that is a musical, a tragedy, a romance, and a comedy? I’m not sure why, but 29 years ago he did. Now Rob Marshall, returning from Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, a massive flop, is back in his comfort zone with a big, showy musical.

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He’s brought along quite the dramatis personæ, too. The compact cast makes up for it’s size in strength. Nearly every one of them contributes a memorable moment to this memorable ensemble. You won’t forget Lila Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood’s duet with Johnny Depp as The Wolf, nor will you forget Chris Pine’s pipes in “Agony”. (Depp is the weakest leak of the cast. While he is as entertaining as ever, he’s still playing the same role he’s been redoing since the first Pirates.) Meryl Streep apparently has another trick up her sleeve left and this one comes in the form of surprisingly high notes. Streep’s “Stay With Me” is quite good for an actress who is now 70, but the creepy fingernails, wretched face, and blue hair she inhabits and pervades the way she does all of her characters, are sublime.

There are so many central characters, so many plot lines, so many starts and stops that the film shouldn’t work as well as it does. Somehow, Marshall has managed to cram all of the storylines together with the help of James Lapine’s, who also co-wrote the play, tight script. At just over 2 hours, the film never really stops. One scene involving the Wolf seducing Little Red Riding Hood segues into another involving the Baker and his Wife arguing over who should go (you guessed it) into the woods. While not all of the storylines are strong as the others, they all collide into one another so often that if Johnny Depp’s Wolf is all too familiar, Meryl Streep’s high notes will be sure to show up in the next scene.

The film is not without it’s faults. It doesn’t really know who it’s for and Marshall can’t decide whether he wants a full on musical or a much more safe Disney moneymaker. Is the film for young Disney princess toddlers? No, not really. Is it for Sondheim enthusiasts? Maybe, but it’s not entirely faithful. Is it for Depp and Streep fans? Possibly. In the end, it’s really for all of these people and maybe that’s a good thing. A mix of these groups did see the film and placed it at #2 at the Box Office, hopeful to those looking for something more original and not involving dwarves or red haired girls.

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As I sat in the theater watching trailer upon trailer, a preview for the new Cinderella played. As I watched the following film, it dawned on me that these characters have been reworked multiple times in very recent years to varying degrees. Jack the Giant Slayer in 2013, Red Riding Hood in 2011, Tangled in 2010, and more have reimagined these characters over and over, with no end in sight. The Cinderella trailer only reassured me that Hollywood’s obsession with rehashing every franchise possible, especially Disney, will continue to cascade down on those looking for more thoughtful cinema.

While it may not exactly be “thoughtful cinema”, Into the Woods does achieve what few would have guessed, myself included, and that is being crowd-pleasing, while thoroughly well-done at the same time. What the film achieves so wonderfully is it’s ability to dodge the stereotypes that chase down so many films produced by Disney and the like. In subverting the clichés of the genre, Into the Woods achieves something less and less fantasy films of recent years have: It is a fantasy in the true sense of the word. Who would have guessed that Marshall and his team would be brave enough to embrace the grim side of the Brothers Grimm while also imbuing their film with some seriously funny scenes? Not me.

Comments

One Response to “Into The Woods (Flick’s Review)”

  1. flickflack
    January 2nd, 2015 @ 3:25 pm

    For the most part, I agree: Rob Marshall has made a thoroughly enjoyable, surprisingly subversive fantasy musical. It would’ve been nice to see him color outside of the Disney lines a little bit more (featured Hollywood cliches: unnecessary narration, dead-person flashbacks), though I do admire his decision not to include a ceaseless battle climax. And the Sondheim story is dark, edgy, and good fun in all the right places. The huge cast, meanwhile, is surprisingly winning; I actually enjoyed Johnny Depp’s out-of-nowhere cameo. The real reason to journey Into The Woods is, of course, the music. Sondheim’s rhythmic, rhyming, chiming songwriting is a ridiculous delight. The opening sequence, which deftly sets up the dense interlocking narrative, is pure musical joy.

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