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'Into The Woods' Reviewed

Sondheim movie

Sondheim movie

So I sat through a Disney movie during Christmas day, something that hadn’t happened to me for a long time… plus ‘Into the Woods’ presented another problem to me, it is a musical and I am not a fan of musicals to say the least! So why was I going? Because it was Xmas day, because there was Meryl Streep in it and other good actors, and because it sounded like a Christmas movie, just the look of the trailer gave me this big-Christmas-release feeling to me. Furthermore, it was dealing with the stories of my childhood, remembered through the old Disney animations, wrapped into a sumptuous atmosphere and lavish production, yeah it was a perfect Christmas day entertainment …

I ended up sitting at the front – well the theater was packed – and the room was filled with gay couples (surprised?) and families with children… But is it a kid movie? Yes and no, mostly no, it has its dark and grotesque moments and I don’t know how children will process the complex story and the conclusions? The fact that it is a Disney movie is kind of hilarious, the big corporation is partially biting its own hand, deconstructing the fairy tales it has made a fortune off… but may be this constant story-switching is perfect for this internet generation.

‘Into the Woods, the film version of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s 1987 fairy-tale musical directed by Rob Marshall, is a silly detour and clever maze around Grimm and Perrault’s fairy tales, a series of intertwined stories all connected by the tale of a baker and his wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt) who are desperately trying to have a child but are unable to do so because of a spell placed on their family by a witch (Meryl Streep)… To break the spell they have to collect 4 special ingredients, a cow as white as snow (belonging to Jack of Jack and the Beanstalk and played by Daniel Huttlestone of Les Mis’ fame), a cape as red as blood (belonging to Little Red Riding Hood, played by Lilla Crawford), yellow hair the color of corn (belonging to Rapunzel, played by Mackenzie Mauzy) and a gold slipper (belonging to Cinderella, played by Anna Kendrick). And they have to collect everything before the next blue moon…

It gets a bit complicated (and quite funny) as all these fairy tales bumped into each other, and there is a serious deconstruction of all these fairy tales stereotyped characters: Cinderella is not sure she wants to commit to her prince charming, the little red hood  makes a cape off the wolf’s skin – and that’s pretty badass – Cinderella’s stepmother (Christine Baranski) doesn’t hesitate to use the knife to make her daughters’ foot get into that slipper and the prince in question is actually flighty, although ingenious (he puts some glue on the steps of the palace to make her girl lose the shoe) but totally useless (he is not the one killing the giant at the end); he even has an over-the-top musical number with another prince charming with some homoerotic undertone – opening their shirts on a waterfall! – even though they are singing about their princesses… The story is cruel and funny and we are not in the magic kingdom anymore, some people even die and they are not the bad ones. But there is a happy ending, sort of because it is not the one you usually get. The actors are all wonderful, Meryl Streep is amazing as usual, and this woman can truly sing if you didn’t know that already, and Johnny Depp plays the wolf as a child predator as he should do.

I haven’t seen the Broadway musical on stage, but I have read the movie is rather faithful to the original, beside a few alterations… People were often applauding at the end of a musical number as they would do it for a play, and this is a well-known score if you like musicals… Me? I still don’t really like them, there is always something that make me cringe when these people start singing and share their deep thoughts over an usually very orchestrated part but not very memorable tune… was that necessary I always ask myself? I understand it’s a genre, a contrived one, which works for a lot of people, but the music can be a bit boring and I don’t care about if Sondheim is considered as the best composer of our time, I often get the impression that the music fills the blanks around a sketchy story.

However it was not really the case here, it worked for me most of the time, especially during the first and the most entertaining part of the movie, when it was fun… But when they started to become a bit moralistic and to ask themselves big questions, is it right to kill the giant? Should the baker repeat his father’s sin? with this big no-one-is-alone thing, they lost me a bit,… although I understand there is an intention to mess up with Disney’s good-versus-evil logic. The story blurs the distinction between right and wrong, as the bad guy (the witch) is not necessary bad (she is not good but she is right as she says), and forces the  characters to grow up as the girl gets over her delusional wish and the baker takes responsibility

However, I would have preferred the film to be a farce, nothing more than a goofy but clever farce with a domino effect, where the little redhood skins the wolf, the girl gets rid of her guy and the over-the-top prince charming kisses the first girl he meets in the woods,… ‘I was raised to be charming, not sincere’,… certainly the funniest line of the movie.

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