Thanks to it being winter and my work schedule, I didn’t get out much over the past week. When that happens, I’m probably post a movie review. I hope to write screenplays someday so I think it’ll be good practice for me to analyze films (albeit much shorter than most movie reviews and with as few “spoilers” as possible).
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So, on Friday, I saw Into the Woods for the first time and… I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, fairytales are one of my favorite things ever and I absolutely adore musicals, but on the other hand… well…
First, the good things: The songs were all very enjoyable. Stephen Sondheim is amazing and both the orchestration and the vocal performances were wonderful. There were some awkward deliveries, courtesy of Christine Baranski as the Stepmother and Johnny Depp as the Wolf, though that might have to do more with the characters than their singing abilities. The other singers are all very talented, especially Lilla Crawford (Red Riding Hood) and Meryl Streep (the Witch).
As a musical production, the music was obviously the most important part, and that is clearly where the most effort was directed. The songs are more fitting for a stage production than a movie, as the audience can clearly tell, but they do their job: they tell a story through song. “The Prologue,” for example, was a great opening for the film, did a wonderful job of setting up the background of the characters, and setting up the plot.
The story is also very well done: I greatly enjoyed how closely it followed the original fairytales (i.e. the part with the lentils and the birds was from the original Grimm story) as well how they were combined to work as a cohesive whole. (At least, the first part, anyway. We’ll get to it).
As for the flaws, some of the casting choices, like Anna Kendrick and Chris Pine, were very distracting. I didn’t see them as Cinderella or the Prince, I saw them as themselves. It was the same with Johnny Depp as the Wolf. They just seemed so out of place and it hurt the movie. It’s not that they had horrible performances; it’s that their faces are so recognizable and they didn’t fit in.
The rest of the casting was spot on: James Corden and Emily Blunt worked very well off one another, and while I knew Meryl Streep was always there, she really got into character and pulled it off.
The movie also went on waaay too long. Maybe I’m just conditioned to the “fairytale ending” being THE END, but I think it would have been fine to end the film at the royal wedding. I understand aspects were actually cut from the original stage production (like the Princes falling in love with other fairytale princesses), and can appreciate wanting to show how magic can bite you in the bum, but I just think that, where the first part was engaging, the second half just dragged. That is the movie’s biggest flaw: the second half felt like it was just tacked on and didn’t gel up well with the first part, so it felt unnecessary and long. Although I will give it credit for having two of the best songs, “Your Fault” and “The Last Midnight.”
On the whole, it is a better musical experience than a film, as it is with many plays-made-movies. Quite honestly, I’m getting more enjoyment out of the soundtrack than I did the movie. If I ever get the chance to see it as a live play, I think I’ll take it, but I’ll pass on a second viewing of the film. To quote the Witch: it’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just nice.