Into The Woods: The Movie Review
“Children may not obey,
But children will listen.
Children will look to you
For which way to turn,
To learn what to be.”
I already wrote about my thoughts, hopes, and worries about the movie version of this show a few months back for a Stage-To-Screen Bloghop.
Then I had a listening party with some friends, giving ourselves a chance to hear the music of the movie before going to see it — because one of the great obstacles to seeing a show when you know one version so well is that the voices sound so different.
I went with a friend to see the movie Christmas Eve, and my response is multi-fold. And I kind of feel like I need to see it again to really give it a fair review. But, that kind of procrastination tactic could drag on forever…
One of the things I feel important to say is this: if you don’t like musicals, you probably won’t like this movie. It seems like a “no duh” kind of statement to me, but I was surprised at the number of reviews I stumbled across which seemed to not like this film because it was a musical. Yes… it’s a musical. No… they are not for everyone. Chances are if you don’t like people bursting out in song to forward the plot, or explain how they feel, you aren’t going to like this movie. Okay, on with the reflection…
On the level of a musical-movie, based solely on it’s own merits and not in comparison to the stage-production I’m most familiar with: It’s a good movie. Well sung and acted. Beautifully staged. It stands well on its own and I enjoyed the time spent watching it. Part of the fun of both fairy tales and musicals is a certain suspension of expectations, realism has very little place in a world where magic is expected and people share their thoughts and feelings through song. It is a fun little movie.
I’m especially fond of the staging of “Agony.” A song that I’ve always found fun (the two princes, in a bit of sibling rivalry as to whose romantic situation is more challenging) was made even more entertaining by the way the actors played the part and how the entire song was staged. Epic. Hilarious.
When I look at it in comparison to the Broadway Cast Performance that I grew up with (and watched so much I’m surprised we didn’t wear out the VHS) things change a bit. On this level I was still pleased with the casting, I feel like everyone held their own, took the roles on themselves, and played it well.
However, looking at the movie in comparison there were some things I was less happy about. Lines (and entire songs and characters) were cut. Some of these changes I understand and can accept easily enough: slowing down a lot of the songs makes it easier for the more casual audience to understand what is being said; songs marking the end of each midnight would have made it a much longer; the prince’s reprise of “Agony” would have added additional story-lines that weren’t completely necessary and, again, would have added to the movie’s length; and a song to mark the end of scene one and the start of scene two would have likely been more difficult to finagle without an actual intermission to divide the parts. But some of the changes made took out what moves this musical, for me, from being an entertaining production to one that I listen to with fair regularity. They took out some of the depth and complication of the story.
The first part is okay. I miss the “midnights” from a musical level (I just like those segments) but also because they give us a bit more of some of the smaller, peripheral characters. Little Red’s Granny, Jacks Mom, the Step-Mother and Step-Sisters, the Steward — all of these characters feel as though they are demoted in the movie, nearly non-entities. This change makes the second act far less powerful to me, and so when things happen to them later on I have less investment in them. The emotional power of something happening to a character is nearly negligible if you haven’t had any chance to connect with that character.
The second part, what happens after “happily ever after,” has a darkness and depth to it that gets lost in the movie. On one level I understand the change, this is a Disney movie after all, but it seems to take away a huge piece of what I really love about the story. It seems like there must be ways that some of it could have been kept complicated, and a little darker, while still being a Disney movie.
The decisions made around the character of Rupunzel show some of this — the movie gives a much kinder, gentler, and more surface-level treatment of things. For me, however, a lot of the loss of depth can be seen most clearly in the decisions around the Narrator/Mysterious Old Man/Bakers Father.
Since there-be-spoilers here, I’m going to continue the conversation on the next page. For links to some additional reviews and analysis without the spoilers, hop directly to page 3.