Sunday, January 4, 2015

Happy New Woods (a movie review)

In the past, when I was no more than a babe (well, no more than ten years old), I got my first glimpse of Into the Woods. It was my sleep-away camp's theater production, and I saw the prologue (that was all they showed the younger kids). Years later in high school, I watched the American Playhouse video recording at a friend's house. We got to the end of act one and I thought, "Well, that was delightful," and when I realized we were only at intermission I exclaimed, "It's not over?" I watched it many more times over the years and it became my favorite musical, and a gateway to other Sondheim shows, and from there, the rest of the genre.

Much has been said of the new Ron Marshall film adaptation, and I have read none of it (if there's anything worthy, links please), so at the risk of repeating what's already out there, here are my thoughts (WARNING: spoilers):

  • Loved it from beginning to end. I can play most of the original cast video in my head from memory, so I flinched when the movie deviated from that (which it did almost immediately), but went in prepared to forgive that, and forgive it I did.
  • Meryl Streep? Amazing, of course. I wondered how they were going to restore the Witch's "youth and beauty," and joked that Meryl has some of that serum from Death Becomes Her left over, but they did a fine job. Also Emily Blunt: amazing.
  • Christine Baranski: amazing and underused (of course it was the part, not much expanding to be done there). Tracey Ullman: amazing, and although her part was small I was satisfied. Frances de la Tour: of course way underused.
  • Johnny Depp: he was fine. His costume seemed to be an awkward compromise between wolf and human. No comment on the neutering of the sexual tension. Honestly that whole storyline has always been problematic, I feel, but at least the tone of the original Broadway production was silly and ridiculous. The tone of the movie was serious (see next bullet), so carving a live (and dry, and physically unharmed) Red and Granny out of the wolf seemed out of place, as was their treatment of "I Know Things Now."
  • The PBS telecast of the original Broadway production was laugh-out-loud funny, self-aware, and self-mocking, although dark. The movie is a fantasy adventure with funny moments, but an overall serious mood. In an interview with Playbill Rob Marshall notes that this was his intent. I suppose the stage show was for adults and the movie is Disney family entertainment.
  • The aforementioned Disneyification didn't bother me much, but I do object to the omission of Rapunzel's death. Rapunzel getting crushed underfoot by the giant throws the Witch over the edge, giving her the motivation to find Jack and deliver him to his death. It also makes her a sympathetic character for the first time in the story.  Without it, the Witch appears to be trying to, what, save the kingdom?
  • The Narrator/Mysterious Man was another casualty of the change in mood, but honestly I didn't mind. I think killing the Narrator in the stage show is a stroke of brilliance, but obviously they were trying to cut down on the killing.
  • I missed the "one midnight gone"/"two midnights gone" aphorisms ("Slotted spoons don't hold much soup"). It gave Granny something to do, for one thing, and for another, it gave us, "How do you know what you want 'til you get what you want and you see if you like it?" but again, it wouldn't have made sense with the mood.
  • The stage production was subtler about things, like the Witch's reason for sending the Baker out for the items. I guess they had to spell it out for the kids.
  • "Last Midnight" was amazing, and for the first time I was able to make out all the words at the end of it.
  • "Agony" was hilarious. Out of place, but not in a bad way.
  • The Baker isn't a funny character, so it's a shame we missed out on James Corden's comic genius.
  • I am not sad that they cut "No More." At that point in the musical, I'm always like, "Yes please god no more."
I suppose that'll do. Just bought tickets for the Roundabout Theater production, can't wait!

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