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Into the Woods (2014)

| December 25, 2014 | 0 Comments

It seems natural that a musical about a meshing of fairy tale character would come from Disney, added to the fact that it comes from Chicago director Rob Marshall makes it doubly tantalizing. It works. It’s a pleasure to report that Into the Woods is an entertaining ball of fun, a movie that breathes with fire and energy. This opinion comes from someone unfamiliar with its source material. Yes, this was my introduction to this enterprise, and I have to say I was quite impressed. Maybe that was to my good fortune, never having seen the production before, my vision was completely unclouded by my attempts to match it with its stage origins.

Into the Woods is a sort-of Mix-Tape version of most of the great fairy tales; Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Cinderella, all mashed-up into a story so complicated that the characters find themselves having to stop and explain it to each other. As the movie opens, we find all these classic characters moving rapidly into the one place that – as everyone knows – no fairy tale character should ever go: into the woods. Here lurks the danger of losing one’s bearings, both ethically and morally. Here lurks the stranger danger of such unsavory elements as The Big Bad Wolf (played by a very pimp-ish Johnny Depp) whose lusty attachment to Red suggest more than the contents of her basket.

All of the characters are fixed on their legendary goals. Red is taking goodies to Grandma, but finds that she can’t help sampling from the basket. Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) is a dull-witted lad on his way to sell the family cow. And Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) is on the run from the Prince (a very hammy Chris Pine) – and for some reason is wearing gold slippers instead of glass ones.

Yet, the center is the story of the Baker (James Cordan) and his wife (Emily Blunt) a childless couple who, through a plot that sounds like a video game, get a task from an ugly old witch (Meryl Streep) who needs them to collect four items by midnight (of course) so they can have a child and she can regain her former beauty (of this, don’t ask questions, just go with it). The items of course: Red’s cape, Cinderella’s shoe, Jack’s cow and a lock of Rapunzel’s hair.

If this plot sounds more complicated than it should be, well, it is. Things get so complicated that several times the characters actually have to stop and explain it to each other in order to sort it out. In lesser hands, that might result in a convoluted mess, but somehow this well-mounted script by James Lapine not only keeps things organized but also keeps it moving at a wonderfully rapid comic pace.

Most of that pace is helped by the musical numbers which seem organic to the material rather than feeling glued randomly onto the plot (witness: the recent Annie). The songs seem to come from the characters rather than feeling like an obligation. The test of a musical is whether or not you remember the songs, and out of at least a dozen, three stand out in my mind. First is the opening number. Second was “Agony”, a musical duet between two princes over the troubles each must face form their lady fare. Third was Johnny Depp in the smaller role as the wolf, whose lust for Red is as entertaining as it is creepy.

Where the movie falters is in the final act. After all the pieces have been collected, the movie seems to be over. Yet, another development comes about that drags the movie on for another half hour. It’s not unwelcome, but it feels protracted. After all the items have been collected, you find yourself in the spirit of getting out of your seat only to be dragged back again for a plot development that feels more like a deleted scene on the DVD. It doesn’t destroy the magic but you feel yourself wondering why this story isn’t wrapping up. Despite that fumbling, the movie is still enchanting. It was enough to entertain this newby, and it should be enough for the faithful as well.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2014) View IMDB Filed in: Musical