Monday, January 19, 2015

Dream Factory: Into the Woods

Into the Woods
Director: Rob Marshall
Original release date: Disney 2014
Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy 2015 nominee
Rating: PG
Grade: B

Summary from Rotten Tomatoes: Into the Woods is a modern twist on several of the beloved Brothers Grimm fairy tales, intertwining the plots of a few choice stories and exploring the consequences of the characters' wishes and quests. This humorous and heartfelt musical follows the classic tales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel -all tied together by an original story involving a baker and his wife, their wish to begin a family and their interaction with the witch who has put a curse on them.

As an aficionado of both fairy tales and musicals, I had been anticipating the release of the film version of Into the Woods for some time, especially since it's an adaptation of a Stephen Sondheim musical.  Of course, I knew that there would be changes since Disney was marketing it as a family film, but there were still more than I expected.

A number of songs have been truncated or excised completely to shorten the length of the show, which I feel is to its detriment.  Some of the songs that were removed included "Ever After" and "No More,"  which both appear only as instrumentals.  The reprise of "Agony" has also been removed and with it the subplot of the Princes' respective affairs with Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.  I suppose it was to be expected that the "adult" subject matter would be removed or significantly toned down given Disney's involvement, but it muddled the plot in regard to Cinderella's decision to leave her prince.  It should be noted that the violence has been altered, as well.

I appreciated that this version of Cinderella's story used her dead mother's spirit instead of the fairy godmother that has become so iconic. I had worried that it would be changed for the film.  It's worth noting that Rapunzel's prince is still blinded, but Rapunzel neither bears a child nor dies in this version.  

As for production values, the costumes and sets are all fairly detailed and the effects, such as the bean stalks and the Witch's transformation, are pretty impressive.  There's also a good mix of celebrities and stage performers who all do a good job performing the songs.  I don't think Meryl Streep deserves awards nominations for her role here, but considering the shoes she had to fill, I still enjoyed her performance.  

All in all, Into the Woods is a good film that may serve as a great introduction to Sondheim.  It can't replace a live performance, however.

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