It’s Awards Season Onslaught time! So that can mean only one thing; quickie reviews so you (and I) can get out and enjoy the season faster. Feliz Chrismukwanzyulekkah y’all!
Before: Straight up; this ain’t your momma’s Once Upon A Time. It’s your momma’s Sondheim, which means it’s a dark look at the Grimm Fairy Tales, if the Wikipedia page on the musical is any indication. Maybe I don’t want to see this; dark tales from Disney, directed by the dude that pooped out Nine? Oh man. But Rob Marshall did give me Chicago too, in all it’s hammy glory. And Anna Kendrick is awesome…plus Le Streep. Alright. I’m in. I’m just putting my trepidation on record.
During: Holy crap, Emma Blunt has PIPES! She’s awesome. This is kinda the way I felt when I first heard Kendrick sing in Pitch Perfect; that wonderful moment when someone you already enjoy shows a facet of themselves that makes you like their work even more. Happy face time y’all. Loving the melding of movie set and theatrical setting here; you’re meant to know that you’re watching a play. There’s just enough mock-up here, with the forest and the overly colored sets, to keep things fun and slightly tongue-in-cheek. Probably why the darkness of the subject matter rolls off so well. Depp is obviously having fun with his Wolf, and his makeup and costuming harkens to Cats rather than Rick Baker realism. It works here. So does putting Christine Baranski into the shoes of Cinderella’s evil Stepmother. That touch of real theater adds to the fun, as does Tracy Ullman as Jack’s Mother.
As someone who hasn’t seen this play — I know; my Broadway bucket list is so very long — I have no idea if they’ve trimmed, but I assume they have done. Still, Marshall keeps things moving swiftly and there’s no point where the story feels like a hunk was ripped out of it. In fact, Into the Woods makes me believe that Rapunzel, Cinderella, Jack, Red Riding Hood and a witch can all be in the same general area. Yeah, but more so than Once Upon A Time, because there’s no real world artifice.
But let’s get to Meryl Streep, shall we? She’s amazing. Yeah yeah, I saw Mama Mia too. But she speak/sings most of her stuff here, and for the Witch, it’s perfect. As the characters in Into the Woods are all shades of grey, Streep is able to get you to feel her pain, her frustration and see the good in her “misunderstood” character. Plus, at the Witch’s transformation scene…is this chick getting younger and more beautiful every year? Damn you, Streep!
Agony! No, the song. It’s fantastic. Chris Pine (as “Cinderella’s Prince”) and Billy Magnussen (as Rapunzel’s Prince, who also has no name here) are absolutely hilarious! Pine seems to be channeling Shatner, and it is most glorious indeed. Worth the price of admission simply for this number. Though all of the music is top-notch here. “No One Is Alone” is beautiful, and “Into The Woods” blends all the characters together without losing a beat. Okay, so a few of the scenes seem to look around as if they’re not sure where to go next (hint: cows. Cinderella’s dilemma. What-ever.) But even though the dragged me out of the story for a moment, overall this film’s so fun I won’t quibble too much.
After: Okay, so I’m definitely glad I went. I’d even go see it again, and paying for movie tickets is practically against my religion nowadays. While this is definitely not for little kids — Jack’s giant, the dark forest, and a few other bits would freak them right out of their OshKosh — tweens and teens would most likely get a kick out of this film. But hell if they’d ever tell you, mom. Yeesh.
A perfect film to watch, and then dissect all the themes — growing up, morality and ethics, being careful of what you wish for, and of course the idea of true love — with family and friends after too much eggnog.
Nutshell: I’d give Into the Woods an A-. Although it’s a fun journey with all the fairy tale folk we (think we) know, there are a few spots where the story flails. Luckily songs, dances and a game cast that’s talented as heck smooth the edges nicely. We may just see another Marshall musical get an Oscar nom.