Oscars!: Into the Woods

Movie: Into the Woods
Oscar Nominations: Best Actress (Meryl Streep), Best Costumes, Best Production Design

Okay, so it's worthwhile to start by saying that I'm a fan of the original play. I have never seen it done in person, but I've seen the wonderful recording of it on Broadway, with Bernadette Peters playing the Witch, and I've listened to the soundtrack for ages.

Resultingly, I feel like Rob Marshall did a surprisingly good job at bringing it to the screen, but that it's very much DISNEY's Into the Woods, and the entire second half of the movie reflects that. Gone are the darker elements of Sondheim and Lapine's musical -- Rapunzel doesn't die, and the Prince doesn't actually sleep with the Baker's Wife, for example. We don't get the reprise of the songs, and things are shifted around -- "No More," one of my favorite songs, is completely absent for example, and the Narrator part is written out entirely. The end result is that the first half plays about as normal, but the last half feels disconnected and dark without having any real context. You get the sense that it's trying to do some mature things, but then they are either inconsistent (for example, ambivalence about killing the giantess followed by killing her and celebrating as though nothing's wrong) or hollow (the lack of real mourning by the Baker for his wife, as well as a lack of earned connection with his child). I was not a real fan as a result, as beautiful as it was, and I'm happy to go back to the stage version.

Now, that being said, Emily Blunt did a great job as the Baker's Wife, and I thought Anna Kendrick was fun as Cinderella, even if it did feel as though she was mostly standing around for the end of the movie (having most of the heart of her role cut out by the changes). The role of the Witch was similarly affected, but Meryl Streep rises above it to provide a solidly excellent performance, especially given the acrobatics and effects of the role. Chris Pine was very good as Prince Charming, but again, his character loses his way in the script in the second half, which is highly disappointing. In addition the casting of Red Riding Hood as a girl rather than the 20-something she's usually played as made the Wolf's song... disturbing, even as toned down as it is. Depp was very good as the wolf, for the whole 10 minutes of the show he's in, but that doesn't help all that much.

I would have loved to see Rob Marshall's take on this out from under the changes mandated by Disney, as Chicago proves that he is more than capable of handling mature material in a musical. Unfortunately, we'll never know what that show might have been.

Predictions: Streep was very good, but honestly this should not be a year to give her this award. The costumes were lovely, but nothing that made me really stand up and take notice. Production Design I could see, though. We'll just have to wait and find out what happens. :) 

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