On a fateful Sunday morning in the early 1990s, young teenage Susannelein got sick and her parents let her stay home from church – a rare occasion. She turned on the television and found some sort of musical playing on PBS. Our girl was a geeky little 80s kid and anything that smacked of musical theater was instantly mesmerizing to her. She watched the fractured fairytale playing out before her and was hooked from that moment onward. As the final credits for the filmed-stage-production rolled she finally found out the name of the production: Into the Woods. After acquiring the soundtrack for the show, she and her friends studied the lyrics from the musical so intently that they memorized ALL OF THEM. Every single rap, every rhyme, everything. So while Into the Woods isn’t exactly her all-time-favorite musical, it holds a very dear place in her heart. Because really, the lyrics that you memorize when you’re 13 stay with you your whole life.
That’s why grown-up Susannelein is so very relieved to report that the new movie adaptation of Into the Woods is really good. I’ve been watching (over and over and over) every new trailer that had come out during the summer and fall and anticipating Christmas Day 2014 because means it was Into the Woods Day. After hearing the rumors about certain song titles being cut, the fates of characters being changed, I did get a little nervous. I mean, this could have gone the way of the Phantom of the Opera adaptation, which affectively ruined my love for the stage show. I finally made it to the theater on Boxing Day to see the movie. As the final credits rolled, I gave a very happy sigh of relief: it was splendid.
The music is gorgeous. The thin sound of the old stage-production soundtrack coming from my 1998 stereo has nothing on the full symphonic surround sound of the theater. Just so beautiful. The singing is all good, minus Johnny Depp who basically serves as the Russel Crowe of the film. I thought I might miss my gal Bernadette in the role of the witch, but Meryl Streep did a surprisingly wonderful job. I’ve had my eye on Emily Blunt and James Corden for a while now, and was impressed with their performances in this movie.
In terms of the changes from the stage production to the movie, I only truly missed one of the songs that has been cut. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that I could have watched the reprise of the certain song that has our two princes singing bare-chested on top of a waterfall in the first act. The transition from Act 1 to Act 2 is abrupt and I missed the rap about bears/40-foot-feet/griffons/giants. “No More” has been cut but I never liked that song anyway. In terms of the flow of the movie, there’s not much passage of time in the movie between the first acts either, certainly not enough time for the characters to realize that perhaps the thing they most wished for wasn’t making them happy. That’s why I think the 2nd act in the movie doesn’t work as well as it does on stage. Still, though, the tromp through the flattened forest is worth hearing Meryl Streep singing “Last Midnight.” We also get to hear the classic line from Cinderella’s prince, “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.” Now ladies, how many men in YOUR lives could that possibly apply to? A lot of them? That’s what I thought. Me too. Scoundrels.
The ending of the movie is also rather abrupt. It’s somehow more comforting to leave our characters stranded in the forest with an uncertain future on the stage versus leaving them thusly in a movie.
After the show, I discussed the show with my companion who did not enjoy the music. I wonder how many more Into the Woods newbies will feel the same way. It really is a show that improves upon study. For instance, the genius of the witch’s rapping and Little Red’s ambivalence about her hard life lessons take some time to absorb. We also had a great conversation about the lessons of Into the Woods versus the lessons of Les Mis. We both agreed that we prefer the redemptive themes of Les Mis over the post-modern find-your-own-truth of ITW.
All in all, though, I thought it was a splendid film and I plan on seeing it several more times in the movie theater before its run ends.