movie thoughts: Into the Woods (2014)

I only watched three movies this past month, mostly because we’ve been marathoning too many tv shows to make time for a 2 hour film. But the one movie I actually went to the theater to see was Into the Woods, the big screen adaptation of the award-winning Broadway musical.

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Let me say up front that I am a HUGE fan of the original musical. My parents taped the live performance off of PBS when I was a kid and I watched it over and over. I had the soundtrack and memorized it. I was very nervous about the film from day one of its announcement. And after getting to think about it for a month, I finally have coherent thoughts formed about the motion picture version.

It is really hard to separate my knowledge of the stage production, the FULL STORY, from what we ended up with on screen. I know which songs were cut, which characters were lost, and what moments were missed.

The movie was alright on its own. Obviously it loses some of the charm, being a movie versus stage. I don’t think people truly understand the magic of seeing something on stage, having a performer belt out a tune, hit all the high notes, singing with a LIVE orchestra – no retakes, no edits. You can’t appreciate seeing the sets shift and move right before your eyes. That is the magic of theater, not the movies.

But the movie did manage to create its own magic.

Okay, let’s start with THE GOOD:

– Sets and staging were done right. I like how they kept the Woods set feeling like the stage play, with characters running through it. I felt like they kept the special effects and urge to create ALL THE SETS in check. We had exactly what it needed in terms of locations.

– Cinderella’s story: I adore Anna Kendrick and I felt like Cinderella’s story was the one left most intact. I really loved the decision to make her final song “On the Steps of the Palace” happening right before us instead of as a story being told. One of the perks of making a big budget movie is you can afford that random castle set. The whole scene played out in a new and exciting way.

– AGONY! : This song stole the entire movie as you could hear everyone chuckling as it got more and more ridiculous. I can only hope this is the clip they use at the Oscars.

– Emily Blunt and James Corden: I’ve always liked both of these actors but seeing them in these rolls made me love them even more. I was so impressed by their voices. I mean, they weren’t Broadway level, but perfect for this movie.

But this is where my frustrations begin…

– Baker and his Father: At first, I didn’t think much of the fact that the Baker’s Father was cut from the show. He only had one song, how big of a deal could it be? But that one song and the relationship with the Baker and his Father (and his fear of becoming his father) are a HUGE HUGE part of the story that was only made more obvious with the absence of the song during the awkward scene near the end where the Baker wanders through the woods. “No More” is a turning point for that character, it is when he and the audience start to believe in him as a hero and father.

– Agony (Reprise): Also cut was the second rendition of Agony. Again, I dismissed this as necessary. It’s funny but it would mean casting a Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and obviously we spent a lot of money on those waterfalls so let’s just pass it. Except…now the only infidelity we see with Cinderella’s Prince is with the Baker’s Wife. And suddenly when Cinderella decides to leave him, it’s not quite as clear to the viewer that he is a philanderer and not just oddly attracted to the Baker’s Wife. I felt like this hurt her character more than his but also just didn’t quite make us despise the Prince as much as we should have. Perhaps they should have put more hints out about him being a jerk, then the song could still be left out but we would also know that he loves the ladies.

– Maybe They’re Magic: At first I didn’t miss this song either, but by the end I realized removing it totally screwed up the story arc for the Baker and his Wife. The ENTIRE SHOW is about their relationship. She wants a baby and, at first, he is just going along with it. This song shows her determination. It also shows how unsure he is about everything still. He is scared of this big step. She is ready, she is the rock of this relationship and this first song really shows that. And by the time they sing “You’ve Changed” I really felt the loss of this song, which is what “You’ve Changed” is a reaction to.

– Hello Little Girl and The Wolf: Sitting back and reflecting, if anything could have been cut, this song probably could have gone. I mean, I LOVE THIS SONG. I think everyone does, but the Wolf is a minor character and his interactions with Red Riding Hood could have been reduced to a conversation. Also, as the only non-Human character, the entire sequence with Johnny Depp in costume felt like we had wandered into a Tim Burton movie. And then Red’s song about being eaten, the way that was shot, also felt Burton-y. And very out of place with the rest of the film. I would have kept that song but there had to be a better way of presenting it.

– The Finale: The most powerful, beautiful song, Children Will Listen, is lost as a background piece as the credits start to roll. It is the end of the story, it ties it all together and yet it is barely noticeable as the camera pans over the woods, Streep’s voice a distant sound. I’m not sure how this could have been done but I know it could have been done better somehow. We know which characters are dead and which are alive. You bring everyone back on stage during a live show…could we have not created some strange space for our missing cast to return to?

So…it’s been hard for me to really decide how I feel about this movie adaptation. I always feel like that if *I* can see the problems and the fixes, then it must be very obvious. This wasn’t like Les Miserables when I left the theater ready to punch someone in the face. I left Into the Woods very…unimpressed. Neither happy or angry.

I wanted to love it so much. I wanted to at least enjoy it. But I was left feeling like something was missing. And listening to the full show again, I realized all the parts that were left out. And a good work of art, a good story, all of the pieces are important. You can’t amputate something from the main storyline and not expect it to effect the rest of the piece.

3 Stars and I probably won’t rewatch it.

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