Friday, January 2, 2015

Movie with Abe: Into the Woods

Into the Woods
Directed by Rob Marshall
Released December 25, 2014

Hollywood may be out of ideas, but no one said it was against the rules to adapt an extremely popular stage musical for its first official film treatment. The musical, which debuted on Broadway more than twenty-five years ago, offers a fun and fantastical combination of so many fairy tale stories, many of which – namely “Cinderella” – are slated for yet another cinematic go-round in the near future. One of the biggest shows is also one of the biggest gambles, and, for the most part, turning “Into the Woods” into a movie pays off.

As its title suggests, this production hinges in large part on whether the magical woods do truly seem fantastical. Transitioning from the stage to the screen means that backdrops become the actual outdoors, and care must be taken to make sure that the woods appear infinite and familiar at the same time. That doesn’t give this film a particular advantage over its stage predecessor, and its every chance meeting or musical moment feels just as random or strange as it does in the play.

Music drives this movie, and this production enables the traditional characters to have their expected and deserved spotlights. While Cinderella, Jack, and Little Red Riding Hood might technically be considered the leads, there’s an opportunity for the Baker’s wife, Prince Charming, and the Witch to shine. The ensemble is well-assembled, casting Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Emily Blunt, Meryl Streep, Chris Pine, and others to play these meaty roles. Blunt is the standout as the Baker’s wife, and Christine Baranski, Tammy Blanchard, and Lucy Punch make the most of their small parts as Cinderella’s evil family. Streep has earned most of the praise for her performance as the Witch, and while she’s clearly having fun, this doesn’t belong in the same category as past Oscar-worthy turns of hers.

Rob Marshall, who helmed one of the strongest musical films in recent memory, “Chicago,” is a fitting contender to bring this play to the big screen. At times, “Into the Woods” feels more like “Nine,” Marshall’s second movie musical, which has some spectacular scenes but doesn’t feel like a cohesive whole. That’s more to do with the fact that “Into the Woods” is a long play that, without two acts, doesn’t balance as well in one sitting. Still, it’s hard not to have a good time and by entertained by an ambitious undertaking that’s mostly very enjoyable.


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