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Whenever I hear that a movie is being made based on something that I love, my first reaction is always happiness that the musical/book/TV show that I adore will be shared with more people and I’ll get to fall in love with it all over again! Yay!
And then I see it and, well, I’m almost always underwhelmed. Each new movie close to my heart is just another chance to be disappointed.
But still, every time I hear about a new one, I get excited. And when I heard that a movie was FINALLY being made of Into The Woods, I was ecstatic.
For those of you not familiar with the story, many different fairy tales are woven into one story. The made-up characters of a baker and his wife, who long more than anything to have a baby, set the story in motion and bring the rest of the characters together.
When I was in college somebody lent me a crappy VHS recording of the original Broadway production of Into The Woods and I was immediately hooked (it has since been released as a wonderful DVD). It was everything I wanted in a musical. Stephen Sondheim’s music was complicated and clever and I memorized every note and word.
In 2002 I saw the Broadway revival starring Vanessa Williams, and I was…disappointed. It was hard to believe that this production was directed by James Lapine, who had directed the original (and had also written the book, and wrote the screenplay). The tone was off. The characters were silly, not funny., and there was no depth. I pretended that it hadn’t happened and restored all of my earlier memories from my beloved VHS tape.
And now, twelve years later, I had another chance to fall in love with it again. I was excited, but also scared (much like Little Red Riding Hood). I was nervous that it was being directed by Rob Marshall, because I did not love either Nine or Chicago (I did, however, really like his TV production of Annie).
But the cast! Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Johnny Depp, Chris Pine, it just seemed…right. James Corden I wasn’t familiar with at all though, and as The Baker, much of the story rests on his shoulders. He and his wife are the glue that holds the story together. And he was an unknown entity to me.
Still, I was hopeful.
Last June, Sondheim himself spoke to some high school teachers and dropped some bombshells about the movie, and I lost just about all hope.
And then those bombshells turned out not to be true (well, most of them). But the damage had been done. Rumors were flying that the movie version had been “Disneyfied,” that The Wolf had been toned down and the infidelities had been cut and a death didn’t happen and a song was gone.
And, of course, there were threats of two new songs for The Witch being added, a try for a Best Song Oscar that almost every movie musical shoehorns in that always ends up sucking.
So, by the time I entered the theater two weeks ago to see a screening of Into The Woods, I really didn’t know what to expect.
I left the theater very happy.
The acting was wonderful. The songs were just about all there, with a couple of small exceptions, and were all sung wonderfully (although if I didn’t already know all of the words, I don’t think I would have understood Jack’s accent). The casting was brilliant. The major plot points were almost all there. The sets and costumes were perfect. The tone was right, and I cared about the characters.
One of the fears was the The Wolf would be toned down somehow. In the original his hunger for Little Red Riding Hood is a lusty hunger, his song filled with double entendres and hip thrusts. And while Johnny Depp’s wolf costume was more zoot suit and stylized than realistic (no dangling wolf penis like in the original, THANK GOD), it was just as lusty and, well, awkward (in a good way? I’m never sure how I feel about that song – it’s being sung to a child). Depp doesn’t appear on screen for very long but he makes the most of it while he’s there.
And Little Red Riding Hood was plump and sassy and brave and funny – an excellent match for The Wolf.
The Baker and The Baker’s Wife, played by James Corden and Emily Blunt, were a great couple, and the emotional and moral center of the movie. Cinderella, played by Anna Kendrick, sung her difficult songs well.
And Meryl Streep? She was perfection. She belted out her songs with a passion and intensity that made me feel for her in a way that I never felt for Bernadette Peters, who was awesome in the original but not as dark or desperate.
The supporting characters were all cast well (Tracy Ullman and Christine Baranski, especially).
And now to the Princes. My favorite song in the original is “Agony.” It’s just about everybody’s favorite song from the original. In the movie the Princes are played by Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen, and as their song started I was giddy. The song is brilliant and hilarious, and they NAILED IT. “Agony “ was the highlight of the movie for me. In just a few minutes those two handsome guys managed to send up the spirit and image of every Disney prince ever created. I had tears rolling down my cheeks by the end of the song. The entire audience cheered.
Is it a perfect movie? No. But I’m afraid that for obsessed fans like myself, the only way to make the movie perfect is to just film the stage version – which they’ve already done. This was a great movie version.
Now For Some Spoilers – Sort Of
If you don’t want to know any specifics from the show, don’t read the next paragraphs. I’m not exactly going to give away things that happen, I’m going to give away three things that don’t happen. And I’m really only doing it because I was waiting for them, and was confused when they didn’t happen. If you’re not waiting for them, you can just sit back and enjoy the movie. But they are spoilers. You’ve been warned.
Number one, and this is the biggest: There is no reprise of “Agony.” In the original production the Princes meet again in act 2 to compare notes on married life, and it’s just as funny as the first version. But in the movie, it doesn’t happen. It’s fine, if you don’t know it should be coming you won’t miss it. But I was waiting for it. And waiting for it. And finally telling myself “It has to be now, it’s almost over!!” But it doesn’t exist. There are some plot changes that would have made it difficult to include, but I wish they’d tried, because every moment the Princes were on screen together was great, and I wanted more.
Number two: Rapunzel doesn’t die. Which I guess is tied into number one. The ultimate disproving of her mother’s methods is Rapunzel’s happy ending in the movie, which really changes things for The Witch, but it still works.
Number three: There’s no Narrator. No second chance for The Baker and his dad. No “No More.” It’s a tender part of the original that I missed in the movie.
Into The Woods opens Christmas Day.