Sunday, December 21, 2014

Into The Woods Review: A Winsome Cast Makes for a Delightful Musical

I wore this bracelet to the screening. It was custom-made by Jenna of Book Geek Boutique. You can check out her fairy tale themed merchandise on Facebook and on Etsy.

A gift from Jenna, which I wore to the screening since it's the only fairy tale themed necklace I have. You can buy it here.

Let me first say that I am not overly fond of musicals, since being musicals, they tend to have too much singing and dancing for my liking. That being said, I was completely won over by the appealing cast of Into The Woods and had a jolly good time at the screening. Unlike the godawful Les Miserables, which I would have walked out of had I watched it in the movie theater, where the actors seemed to have laboriously delivered a tone-deaf rendition of the songs, in Into The Woods, the singing is all surprisingly very good and seem to have been pulled off almost effortlessly.

Meryl Streep, who plays the witch, is front and center in all of the movie's marketing and she seems to be having great fun playing a wicked character. However, it is actually her The Devil Wears Pradaco-star Emily Blunt's character, the Bakers Wife, who forms the true heart of the story, human fallibility and all.

Her husband is played by a very earnest James Corden, who was last singing in a movie as Britain's Got Talent winner Paul Potts in One Chance. Anna Kendrick plays Cinderella, and we already knows she is a good singer (see Pitch Perfect). And so, it is her romantic counterpart, Cinderella's Prince, played by Chris Pine, and Blunt who are the true musical surprises. Who knew they could both sing so well?

The rest of the main cast is rounded off by Lilla Crawford as Little Red Riding Hood, Johnny Depp as the Wolf, Daniel Huttlestone as Jack (of beanstalk fame), Mackenzie Mauzy as Rapunzel and Billy Magnussen as her Prince. Lilla and Daniel as child actors are pretty good in their roles, while Depp brings his usual unique blend of quirkiness to a quirky role and thankfully doesn't outlive his welcome. Mauzy and Magnussen are decent in their respective roles, even when as their storyline form the most boring thread in this fairytale mashup and their performances are often overshadowed by that of their co-stars.

The first half of the movie plays like a wonderful greatest hits of Grimms' fairy tales, so it is a shame that the movie kind of loses steam on the second act when the characters find out that having their wishes granted don't really bring about the happily ever afters that they were hoping for.

As already mentioned, the entire cast is charming in this winsome musical, although none more so than Pine, who pulls the rug from under his more stellar co-stars and steals every scene he is in. His duet with Mauzy in Agony is the best and most hilarious song in the movie and almost worth the price of admission by itself. I don't think I ever laughed so hard this year, not even when I was watching 22 Jump Street, which as you probably know from Channing Tatum's recent leaked over-enthusiastic e-mail to Sony executives, overtook Ted as the second highest-grossing R-rated comedy (with The Hangover still in 1st place). Someone needs to put Pine in the lead role in a musical comedy quick. Director Rob Marshall of Chicago fame seems to be firmly in his element here after the musical dud that was Nine.

Fans of Stephen Sondheim's original Broadway musical, on which the movie is based on, will be relieved to know that most of the adult themes have remained intact, although the violence and deaths do tend to occur offscreen and some plot changes seem to have been made with the sole purpose of protecting the perceived purity of the Mouse's other fairy tale princess franchises. Personally I think both long-time fans and newcomers young and old will all find something to love and enjoy. Into The Woods is definitely something you can take your whole family to see come Christmas Day, which is probably what Disney wishes will come true.

4 out of 5 stars for me.

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