Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Into the Woods Review: One Magical Musical

Once upon a time in the far away land of Broadway, musical icon Stephen Sondheim created a show that dwelled in the realms of fairy tales. This show was known as Into the Woods. The show dealt with fables such as Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk as these stories came together in one massive musical. Into the Woods may not be known as Sondheim's masterpiece, but the show has been loved by musical fans for years. This holiday season, Into the Woods makes the jump to cinema as director Rob Marshall brings the hit musical to a celluloid form. Marshall has had success with musical in the past with the film adaption of Chicago; but it is hard for lightning to strike twice. So is this Sondheim musical another hit from Rob Marshall or will moviegoers find themselves lost within the woods?

The story of Into The Woods deals with a Baker and his wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt). In order to break a curse made by a witch (Meryl Streep), the two must find items from the likes of Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) and Red Riding Hood ( Lilla Crawdford). The couple's journey intertwines with fairytale characters as the group discovers in the woods that it is best to be careful what you wish for.

Into the Woods' plot had an interesting structure. It was not the changes in the musical's story that took me by surprise, but rather it was the film's pacing. The first act started quickly as we get to know the characters and their direction with remarkable swiftness. However, as soon as everyone entered the woods, the pace slows down to a point where it felt like I was watching a musical live. Pacing aside, the plot to film presents a unique perspective on the classic fairy tales. The Grimm stories of Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk were not played out in their usual fashion. Oppose to showing sequences from these fairy tales, the movie gives just an idea of how those stories played out. This was merit for the film's plot as kept true to the fairy tales that many know, but kept the story grounded within the woods itself. While there was a lot to the film's plot, it still managed to be coherent as well as compelling.

Into the Woods featured an all star cast to say the least. It was hard for me to pick out which characters and performances stood out the most as everyone in the cast did a outstanding job. Perhaps the weakest point in the cast was Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy) and her Prince ( Billy Magnussen), but even these underwhelming characters were tolerable and had their moments. Aside from those two, the cast was all but impressive. James Corden and Emily Blunt had terrific chemistry as the Baker and his wife. Anna Kendrick had a solid performances as Cinderella; while Chris Pine surprised me with as role as the Prince (mostly due to Pine's singing ability). The young actors were also a surprise as both Jack and Red Riding Hood were fun characters. Then there is Meryl Streep as the Witch. In both acting and singing, Meryl gives 100% to the role as the Witch was a character you could understand and enjoy. Johnny Depp's supporting role as the Big Bad Wolf was but icing on the cake as his brief appearance was entertaining. In every way, the cast of Into the Woods was full of surprises as this ensemble was well formulated and very much enjoyable.

The design to this film should be commended. I was surprised that the forest itself did not look magical; however the set did feel huge and it created tone right for the movie. The film's atmosphere was definitive thanks to the movie's use of lighting and its outlandish costume designs. Then there was the film' s music which was simply phenomenal. Every musical number, whether it was "Stay With Me", "Agony" or "Into the Woods", stood out in their own and the music continues to buzz in my head as I write this review. Though, just to nitpick, the film did cut one of my favorite songs from the musical; but even that annoyance was not enough to hinder the
film's presentation.

Into the Woods is one the most impressive musicals I have seen in quite sometime. Everything about this movie, whether it was the cast or the film's look, was memorable and rich with with entertainment. Though the film could have been stronger if it played closer to the original musical. However because of its presentation, Into The Woods captured the magic of Broadway, and that is an impressive feat for any movie in this genre.

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