Friday, January 2, 2015
Into The Woods: Nearly Finds Its Way
Movie Review: Into The Woods
Director: Rob Marshall
Reviewed: 2 January 2015
You cannot beat the music and songs from James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim's beloved musical Into The Woods, but in the less than capable hands of director Rob Marshall and editor Wyatt Smith, the film fails to satisfy in any totally rewarding way. We live now in a world more comfortable with the fractured fairy tales and post-modern examination of them through shows like Wicked and films like Shrek. The cleverness of the tale and its pathos is really undercut at times by Marshall's unsure handling of his multiple story lines. Certain characters are lost in the editing, adult themes seem sanitized for a younger audience, and I left wanting to see a bit more of the woods themselves, the textures, and even the kingdoms and worlds that all the characters leave behind. One could do a lot worse though than a film like Into The Woods, but I sensed a hesitation in Marshall going bold with anything in this film, so it remains lukewarm instead.
The plot concerns a curse on the Baker (James Corden) and The Baker's Wife (Emily Blunt) who must acquire a number of talismans to appease their neighbor, a whirling dervish of a Witch (Meryl Streep), in order to finally conceive a child. Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) and her slipper are involved, as is Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and his magic beans, imprisoned Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), and sidetracked Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford). Each story collides into the other as they leave civilization, comfort, safety, innocence, and the expected. Actions have unintended consequences amidst some phenomenal songs.
The film's sprawling nature may be part of its undoing: characters disappear for far too long (and at times, completely). Its comic moments are fewer than needed. A key character's fate seems clumsily handled with slow-motion. Streep's Witch seems to be the centerpiece, but The Baker narrates the tale. And, I am not sure I can point to a particular scene or moment as a show stopper or particularly brilliant. It seems, at times, bloodless and lacking a dynamism that I found in Marshall's beloved Chicago. The cast is mostly effective and pleasing to hear sing such songs.
The music remains infinitely charming, and my vague memories of listening to the cassettes in the car growing up was wonderfully jogged whenever I would hear a bit of dialogue or music that resonated. I think the film's themes are rich and complex: the danger of discovering more about life than you wanted to know, added to the reality that there really is no happily ever after. However, I just wonder if the film became lost in the editing room and Disney-fied, even down to its clunky special-effects work with a giant that should terrify but instead underwhelms. Seems a sin to mess that part up.