Friday, January 16, 2015

The Woods Are Where All the Fun's At… and the singing, too.

For those of you who are not familiar with Into the Woods, here's my sum-up: Happily ever after?  LOL watch this!  Also, singing.  Lots and lots of singing.  You might remember from my last post that Annie (2014) didn't feel much like the musical it should have been thanks to several of the songs being skipped/cut short.  I did not get that feeling with Disney's version of Into the Woods, I'm happy to say.  95% of the time people were singing, so no one can argue that this was not a musical.  I watched a video of a production of this musical in my Core II Fairy Tale class last year, and after dissecting the original fairy tales to pieces, my classmates and I enjoyed seeing their traditional set-up get obliterated in the musical's second act.  Since I loved the original musical, and since it was Disney making it, you can imagine my anxiety regarding how it would be handled when turned into a movie.  I wasn't thrilled to see a poster of Johnny Depp as the wolf (more like a kitty cat with a snazzy tie, if you ask me) when I first heard about the movie.  However, I saw Chris Pine was cast as Prince Charming and figured I'd give it a shot. :)

The movie was surprisingly faithful to the story, even showing things that I didn't think Disney would portray due to their more, ahem, adult themes.  I won't spoil what I mean, but for those of you familiar with the musical you can probably guess what I'm talking about.  In the first half of the film, the childless baker and his wife have to get a hold of 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 for the witch in order to lift the curse that has left them barren.  Their search in the woods incorporates Jack & the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Cinderella, whose stories play out in the way that you are already familiar with.  The baker and his wife succeed, but as soon as you think everyone is getting their happily ever after, everything goes wrong and the characters must return to the forest.  That's where the real fun begins.

(For the record I don't know why they're showing Rapunzel lying asleep.  She's not Sleeping Beauty, ya know!)

In terms of singing performance, everyone was good (no one was exceptional, in my opinion, but no one was mediocre either).  I forgot how funny the "Agony" song was until I saw Chris Pine and Bill Magnussen do it.  The actors got really into it, and I almost wish I could have seen a reprise of it like in the original musical.  You can watch the clip here (the part at 2:22 makes me crack up every time).  Meryl Streep's version of "Witch's Lament" was very powerful, both in terms of visuals and drama.  I was sorry not to see even more of her.

As good as a rendition I thought this movie was overall, there were a few things I missed from the original musical - nit-picky stuff, really.  The first is the part where the witch feeds the narrator to the vengeful giant in an attempt to fend her off, leaving the characters on their own to figure out how their tale will turn out.  I can see why they cut it out from the movie, because it's not like the narrator ever steps into the screen like he steps onto the stage in the play, but still.  It would have been cool to have a more striking end to the narration rather than it getting cutting off in the midpoint of the film and never being heard again.  My second complaint is the wolf.  I don't know why his face is always so big in the movie posters, because he does not play a large role.  In the original musical, the same actor plays the Wolf and the Prince (hinting that they're both predators), but obviously that didn't happen in the movie.  I liked the symbolism that it had though.  It's like the same actor playing Mr. Darling and Hook in Peter Pan.

My most significant complaint is what they did with the Rapunzel storyline.  Minor spoiler alert: In the original musical, both princes turn out to be jerks, but in the movie it's only Chris Pine's Prince that's "charming not sincere."  The Other Prince (seriously, that's what he's called in the movie poster) is the more clumsy yet also endearing one.  In the movie, Rapunzel has a fight with her adoptive mother, the witch, and runs off to presumably have a happily ever after with her prince.  At least I think that's what happened, because the two of them don't show up for the rest of the film.  It was an unsatisfying way to rework that storyline, even if I wasn't in love with the original one where the prince dumps Rapunzel after she suffers a mental breakdown (not one of the better portrayals of mental illness).

I think that Chris Pine's character was enough to get the point across that Prince Charming isn't great and is in fact exploitative, so I don't have a problem with the other prince's character being changed.  What I'm not happy about is how anticlimactic Rapunzel's runaway with the prince is.  I didn't feel any emotion or satisfaction about it.  If they had played up the mother-daughter relationship between Rapunzel and the witch more, I could have more easily seen the scene as a portrayal of a child growing up and a parent being forced to learn to let go.  I think that there was potential in the rewrite to make this scene happen in a powerful way, but it didn't.  It doesn't ruin the movie for me, but it's something that will always irk me.

Anyway, if you like to see fairy tales turned on their heads and if you enjoy watching musicals, I would say that Into the Woods is something I would definitely recommend.  As far as movie remakes go it's not totally perfect, but it kept me entertained and that's enough for me.

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