Dare to Venture Into the Dark, Vague, Musical Woods?

Into the woods

            Tis the season for musicals, and Disney has released yet another holiday film to brighten up their day by putting more money in their pocket. This Christmas, thousands of people are flocking to the theaters to watch their latest masterpiece entitled Into the Woods. Director Rob Marshall has taken the liberties of making a movie version of the play, lining it with a star studded cast and special effects to hopefully craft a world America will fall in love with, and buy a crap ton of merchandise as well. So once again this reviewer has braved the crowds, in hopes of finding a treasure amidst the see of ordinary. What’s the verdict? You know what to do.

 

Likes: Marshall accomplished his goal in terms of special effects and setting, as the movie version of this tale is brilliantly brought to life. The forest is teeming with darkness, hidden threats lurking behind a seemingly innocent woodland. Marshall and his team give us two worlds in one setting, the transition occurring between day and night the latter of which is supposedly the most dangerous part. Nevertheless, the use of shadows, lighting and color are combined together to visually represent the woods, as well as the emotions tied with them. Another strong move was changing up the texture of the woods, forgoing the uniform span of trees, for a more realistic texture change of marshes, bogs, and clearings. This provides the audience a little more diversity, the clearings offering a sense of safety, while the bogs foreshadow danger. And what goes good with a good setting? Why good costumes, and this movie is chock full of wardrobes that fit the setting of a fairy tale village.

Outside of the visual effects though, what else does this movie have to offer? We start with the acting, with Meryl Streep leading the cast as the witch bringing an incredible spectrum of emotion to a typical role. Emily Blunt wins my favor with her cuteness and charm, playing the motherly role quite well and further showing the span of parts she can play. Of course her character would have paled had it not been for her film husband James Corden, who was my favorite of the bunch. The Baker had the best balance of comedy, story, and character of the whole bunch, Corden integrating himself into every aspect of the tale. This character was easy to latch onto for me, and kept me involved in the movie when my attention started to stray. Anna Kendrick did a nice job too, but not going to lie, not my favorite role for her, because her character was a little too… weak and atypical for the strong actress. The humor in this movie though relies heavily on the actors, and had me actually laughing because it was based on delivery, not stupid one liners.

Being a musical though, you probably want to know about the music. In all honesty this wasn’t my favorite soundtrack, most of the songs sounding very similar and overpowered by voices. I’m no expert at this genre, but I prefer to have a blend of instruments and voices in my songs to craft a tune, not just one or the other. A few songs like the opening tune, held a melody I liked, but I can’t say I’ll be buying the soundtrack. Instead I liked the emotion in the tunes, and how they were designed to tell parts of the story, or the thoughts of our beloved heroes. However, these songs were also a weakness for me.

 

Dislikes: One of the major weaknesses for me is that this musical relied too much on the music to tell the tale, and it got old for me. It seems like every five minutes a character was breaking out into the same tune, describing their emotions in a number that sometimes didn’t fit for me. You might be saying, “A musical is all about the music you moron!” I hear you, but when a soundtrack doesn’t click well for me or stand out, repetitive singing annoys me more than makes me dance. Luckily there is some comedy in a few of the melodies, more so at how ridiculous the characters were than anything else.

Speaking of characters, Into the Woods wide cast of characters is both good and bad for this reviewer. The character Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) was a pugnacious brat, who tried to be cute, yet had an edge to prove she was no weakling. Well for me, the only edge she had was being a little punk, whose high pitched voice made me cringe and whose songs just made me laugh. Running a close second is Prince Charming (Chris Pine) who was really nothing but sex appeal and temptation as he charmed the females of the audience. His story is shallow, very little involvement in the plot, and quite honestly a cheesy character. At least they got decent screen time though, because the legendary Johnny Depp, who after all the hype, did little in the movie other than sing one song. The same can be said for Rapunzel, whose tale was reduced to one of eye candy, cute snuggles, and two songs, much like a Nicholas Sparks movie.

Outside of the characters, the story itself is okay, but lacks a lot of detail, relying on songs to fill in the gap. The mystical giant’s world is never seen, only described in a little boys song, which was not my favorite song, and the giants themselves reduced to only some candid shots of CGI bodies. Jack’s story wasn’t the only partially told tales, as just about every tale ended abruptly or vaguely, in a rather rushed, often-dark tone. This dark theme was in almost every aspect of the movie; so if you thought this was another Frozen, go no further. The story was rather depressing, filled with important lessons yes, but the characters had to go through hell to learn them. Even the vague ending didn’t shed much hope, despite the dialog promising hope and a start of a new future. I guess when you go into a place like the woods one should expect the tale to be darker.

I had such high hopes for Into the Woods, but I think the presentation of the story is best left to the live show theater. The setting, special effects, and acting are fantastic, but the music didn’t do it for me, and the lack of closure was lost on me. Was it worth the hype? Not even close, but those who know what the film holds, or are big fans of musicals will most likely enjoy this tale. It has plenty of qualities for the theater, but I strongly ask you to think twice before taking kids to see it. My scores for this film are:

Comedy/Family/Fantasy: 7.5

Movie Overall: 6.5-.7.0

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