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Into The Woods: A Review
Even though the woods aren't normally a scary place for the villagers in this fairy-tale town, a lot of strange things happen into them that can make it a scary place. This musical shows the tales of: Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and the Baker and the Baker's Wife. It's about how some of our favorite fairy tale characters get their happy endings... any how everything goes horribly awry soon after that.
For the most part, I really liked this movie. I had already seen the play, so I already knew what it was about and the songs that went in it (although after looking at Into the Woods's Wikipedia page, I'm not totally sure I've ever seen it without any of the songs cut). Even though I was a little disappointed by some of the cut songs, particularly the reprise of "Agony", I liked the movie.
It starts out with the prologue song where the narrator is narrating and the characters are singing "I wish" and saying what they wish for. This is when it's revealed that the Baker and his wife want a child, Cinderella wants to go to the Kings' Festival, Red Riding Hood is about to go to her grandmother's house, and Jack needs to sell his pet cow. I have always liked this song and the singers did not disappoint. Their voices blended together well, and even though the movie is very dramatized, the acting isn't too over the top, but not too serious.
Meryl Streep comes in as the Witch next. This was the part that I was really looking forward to, because I like Streep's acting and her singing. Also, the Witch has some of the best musical numbers in the play. Meryl Streep was just as good as I thought she would be. It was clear she was having fun with the role as she sang about the vegetables and told the Baker about the curse on his family. Even though she had blue hair and dramatic makeup on, it was her acting ability that really sold the part of the witch.
After the Witch leaves the Bakery, most of the characters are on their way to find their happy ending. Cinderella is trying to win her stepmother's favor by doing a tedious task so she can go to the festival, the Baker and his Wife are going to find the ingredients for a spell that will reverse the Witche's curse, Jack is getting ready to reluctantly sell his cow, Milky White, and Red is about to get attacked by Johnny Depp in a wolf costume.
Even though the wolf only has one number, it's a great one with smooth lyrics, a great rhythm, and a touch of creepy. Mix that with Johnny Depp's insane facial expressions, and it's almost scary. Like Streep, Depp puts everything he has into his acting, and it shows, at least during the song. Before and after the song, however, there isn't as much of his usual flair. It's a good thing that part of his role was kept to a minimum.
Like every good villain, the Witch has a soft spot-- Rapunzel, her "daughter". Even though we find out earlier that Rapunzel is the sister of the Baker and was traded for vegetables from the Witch's garden, the Witch loves her like a daughter, and keeps her in a tower as a strange way of protecting her. However, a prince has been attracted to Rapunzel's singing and unbeknownst to the Witch, he climbs Rapunzel's hair to her room and they fall in love.
Meanwhile, Cinderella, rejected by her step family, goes to her mother's grave. Her mother grants her wish for her to go to the festival with some pretty cool special effects, and she goes off to meet the prince, played by Chris Pine. And in the meantime, Jack needs to sell his cow and Red Riding Hood needs saving.
The plot gets even more confusing as the first act plays out, but more or less all of the fairy tales unfold as all of the characters work for their happy endings. Even though the first act is strange and often doesn't make sense (in both the play and movie version), it is not nearly as dark as the second half of the play.
Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen's song, "Agony" is the comic high point of the first act where the two brothers try to outdo each other in a self-pity contest about their love woes after a chance encounter in the woods. Pine hammed it up with a lot of dramatic movements and with ripping off his shirt even though he does not show that much emotion normally in the rest of the movie. Magnussen is no slouch as he tries to best Pine in the drama department. The song is definitely hilarious, and I was disappointed that they cut out the reprise of the song in the second act because that version is just as over the top and worth watching.
After Happily Ever After
The real changes in the story happen after the happily ever after, when everything takes a turn for the worse as a giant seeks revenge on Jack for killing her mate. One of the bigger changes is that Rapunzel doesn't die. Oh sure, the witch still loses her, but only because Rapunzel holds a grudge for being banished to a swamp. The last we see of her is her riding off with her prince. What happens after that? Do they actually get their happily ever after? Or does he fall in love with Snow White, like he did in the play? Maybe she kills him and steals his money. This is a small change and it has the same effect as it would if she got trampled by the giant, but it's a loose end, and those drive me crazy.
There are other small changes as well. For instance Jack's mother gets pushed down and dies instead of being hit on the head (same killer though).However, there are a couple of pretty big changes. The Baker sees his father for a second so he can receive the news that there's no such thing as a happily ever after and you have to make do with what you have. I've heard a couple of different versions about the Baker's father. The version I've seen is that he is the Mysterious Man that appears now and then in the first half of the play and he is revealed as the Baker's father around the time that the Witch is conducting the spell for the child and her beauty. But I've heard about another version where it's revealed that the Narrator (which is a real character in the play and in existence in the movie) is the Baker's father, and he can narrate the whole thing because he is already of greater wisdom than the characters. I think this is an interesting take on the Narrator, but I also like the Narrator's fate in the version I've seen, where they sacrifice him to the giant in hopes of the giant thinking he's Jack.
In the movie, the Narrator just stops talking more or less, after the happily ever after instead of breaking the third wall and pulling him in to the story.
I'll take the play over the movie any day. But the movie is still a really good way to spend a rainy afternoon, and I'll never pass up the chance to see Chris Pine rip his shirt in the throes of absurdity or hear Meryl Streep belt out the lyrics to "The Last Midnight".