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Overall Rating
2.73

Awesome: 9.09%
Worth A Look: 18.18%
Just Average: 9.09%
Pretty Crappy63.64%
Sucks: 0%

1 review, 5 user ratings


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Into the Woods
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Are We Out Of The Woods Yet? D'oh!"
2 stars

Practically from the moment that it made its debut on stage in 1986, musical theater fans have been salivating over the prospect of a big screen version of James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods." After years of rumors and failed attempts, the show has finally made the leap from the stage to the screen but unfortunately, the old adage that is thematically at the heart of the show--"Be careful what you wish for. . . "--proves itself to be unfailingly and unsparingly accurate in the case of this film. Having never seen the show in its stage incarnation, I cannot specifically comment on how it may have changed along the way, for good or for ill, but based solely on watching the film, I can instantly recognize that something must have been lost in the translation because this is a depressing, lugubrious and wildly overproduced bore that, with maybe one or two exceptions,never manages to connect with viewers on any level.

Set in a version of the distant land where all of the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm took place, the story opens as the local baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) despair of their inability to have a child. They are then visited by a witch (Meryl Streep) who informs them that their childlessness is the result of a curse that she put on the baker's family years earlier when she caught his wayward father stealing some magic beans from her garden--not only can his family not have children but she even took the father's newborn daughter and spirited her away to parts unknown. However, the witch informs them that their is a way to lift the curse as long as they can acquire and present her with four specific items before the rise of the blue moon in three days time--a cow white as milk, a cape red as blood, a slipper pure as gold and hair yellow as corn. With nothing left to lose, the baker and his wife set off into the woods in a desperate attempt to find people with those items and acquire them by any means necessary.

Luckily for them, there are people out there with those very items who are off having their own adventures as well. Young Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) is forced by his mother (Tracy Ullman) to sell his beloved white cow and when he encounters the baker on the way to the market, he is convinced to sell the cow in exchange for some of the magic beans that the baker found in his father's old coat. Meanwhile, Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) is forced to work as a scullery maid for her evil stepmother (Christine Baranski) and stepsisters (Tammy Blanchard and Lucy Punch) but manages to slip into the royal ball in an outfit provided by the spirit of her late mother, complete with golden slippers, that catches the eye of the handsome Prince Charming (Chris Pine). In a faraway tower, the lovely Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), she of the long and golden hair, is isolated from the world except from the occasional visit from a lovestruck Prince (Billy Magnussen). Finally, Red Riding Hood, she of the crimson cape, is making her way through the woods to her grandmother's house but is waylaid by an encounter with a zoot-suited wolf (Johnny Depp) that does not end well for at least one of them.

For a while, these stories play out in the expected ways and the baker and his wife manage to acquire all of the items that they need. However, the film presents certain perspectives that never seemed to have occurred to the Grimms in the first place. For example, is Cinderella the sweetheart we know and love or is she just a flighty type who doesn't know what she wants? Is Prince Charming really a nice guy or is he willing to use his overpowering charm to get whatever he wants, no matter how monstrous it might be? Who is the real villain when Jack climbs the beanstalk and steals the gold--the little brat who was trespassing or the giant who was minding his own business in his own home? Just where the hell does Rapunzel come from anyway? Even when the baker and his wife acquire all of the items in the nick of time, the expected happy ending is not immediately forthcoming and things soon become a lot worse for most of the characters before they begin to get better.

In other words, the basic conceit behind "Into the Woods" is to subvert our notions of what goes into a fairy tale by highlighting the dark underpinnings that have been bowdlerized over the years, demonstrating that even the most well-meaning of wishes do have consequences and showing that happy endings are not necessarily a sure thing in life. At the time that the show was first produced on stage, goofing on such genre conventions might have seemed innovative (at least to those who never saw the old "Fractured Fairy Tales" segments on "Rocky & Bullwinkle) and it still might have worked had the film versions proposed in the early 1990s come off as planned but in the wake of such similar concepts as the "Shrek" films, "Enchanted," the "Once Upon a Time" series and half of the Disney animated films to come in the wake of "Beauty & the Beast," it all seems a little old hat by this point. It might have worked had Lapine, who also wrote the screenplay, had found a fresh way to convey this but outside of the occasional moment or two (such as the depiction of the lengths that Cinderella's stepsisters and stepmother go to get their feet to fit the magic slipper, a conceit that was in the original Brothers Grimm version of the story and largely dropped by horrified parents and editor in subsequent years), he doesn't bring anything new to the party and anyone hoping for the film to point out the irony that the simplistic dynamics of fairy tales that most people have in mind when they hear those words is a direct result of the influence of Walt Disney and his movie studio--the people who produced "Into the Woods"--will likewise come away disappointed.

A bigger problem with the film--and presumably with the show itself--is the way in which the narrative makes its radical shift to a much darker sensibility in its second half after its reasonably upbeat opening half. Trust me, I do not object to this shift to the dark side in theory--indeed, some of my all-time favorite musicals have dealt with bleak material and Sondheim is quite famous for the darkness to be found in some of his works. However, I believe that if a narrative is going to make this radical of a shift, it really needs to earn the right to pull the rug out from underneath the audience in this way and I would argue that "Into the Woods" never quite earns that right. For example, the stuff that eventually happens to the baker's wife is grim indeed but it never feels like it is the logical outcome of the story--it feels like an unnecessarily nasty turn of events leveled at an undeserving character for no other reason than to demonstrate that bad things do sometimes happen to good people in the most ham-handed manner imaginable. Needless to say, despite the Disney imprimatur and familiar fairy tale characters, this is not necessarily a saga for the whole family and there is an excellent chance that the last half may prove to be nightmare fuel for younger and more unsuspecting viewers.

These problems could have been overcome, or at least easy to overlook, if "Into the Woods" had demonstrated any real sense of imagination in its screen presentation but that is not the case here. Although I have not seen it on stage, I can imagine how impressive a good production of it could be in the right hands with creative staging and a cast up to the task of delivering Sondheim's complex tunes. Unfortunately, director Rob Marshall, whose past credits include the overrated "Chicago," the underrated "Nine" and the monstrous cash grab that was the last "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie, rarely finds the right tone--everything is so lumbering and overproduced that it becomes oppressive after a while (instead of finding a creative way of indicating the giant wreaking havoc, the film just shows it in all its CGI glory and drags the proceedings to a virtual standstill for a few minutes) and when he does manage to hit upon an intelligent moment of staging, it doesn't last for very long. As for the musical numbers, they are so indifferently put together that the excitement that they must have generated on stage is nowhere to be found.

The cast that Marshall was able to assemble is genuinely impressive--a testament to the reputation that the show has among actors--but while all deliver their performance with a lot of energy, few of them are up to the demands of the material. Corden and Blunt are nice as the sweet couple at the center but tend to get lost amongst the more colorful characters. Streep pretty much chews the scenery throughout but to her credit, she seems relieved to appear in a musical that asks her to deliver musical material on a slightly higher artistic plane that the collected works of ABBA. Pine is genuinely funny in his early scenes as the smugly self-confident Prince Charming but when the character shifts into a darker mode in the later sections of the film, he is not quite able to shift along with it. In a turn far briefer than the ads would suggest, Depp hams it up as a wolf whose look and feel owes more to the one found in the old Tex Avery cartoons than the one from the original "Little Red Riding Hood." The only cast member who really manages to connect with the audience in a direct and genuinely emotional manner is Anna Kendrick, who has done more than her share of stage musicals in her career and knows how to deliver whether through singing or acting. (That said, if you want to see Kendrick really knock it out of the park with a movie musical, I advise you to wait a couple more months until the release of the film version of the cult favorite "The Last Five Year," a low-key musical in which she slays it from start to finish.)

Whether "Into the Woods" will be of any use to you will probably depend to a large degree on your familiarity with the material. Those who have not seen it before are likely to find it a fairly tedious bore that is grim, dramatically unsatisfying and keeps on adding one ending after another without rhyme or reason. Fans of the show might be a little more forgiving of its flaws due to their relief of finally being able to see it on the big screen at last but I can't imagine that any of them would prefer it to even a moderately successful stage production of the material. All in all, the best thing that one can say about "Into the Woods" is that it is at least somewhat better than the misbegotten remake of "Annie" that opened just a few days ago to general disdain. However, the fact this it isn't that much better than "Annie" pretty much says it all.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25964&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/22/14 16:54:33
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User Comments

3/05/16 Dr. Lao Overblown, nearly incoherent and doesn't have a single song one can sing along with 2 stars
1/10/15 KingNeutron Worth seeing, stays pretty faithful to the stage show 4 stars
1/06/15 Robert Tschinkel being a fan of the broadway show I was a bit disappointed but still a great movie 5 stars
12/30/14 PAUL SHORTT MAGNIFICENT, WELL MADE ADAPTATION WITH A GOOD CAST 4 stars
12/24/14 teddy crescendo I want to bugger Emily Blunt 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  25-Dec-2014 (PG)
  DVD: 24-Mar-2015

UK
  N/A

Australia
  25-Dec-2014
  DVD: 24-Mar-2015


Directed by
  Rob Marshall

Written by
  James Lapine

Cast
  Meryl Streep
  Emily Blunt
  James Corden
  Anna Kendrick
  Chris Pine
  Johnny Depp



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