Film and TV

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Into The Woods

Title:Into The Woods

Why'd It Take So Long To Make This Into A Movie? Disney realized they'd only released one other princess-related movie this year (Maleficent).

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Two Tex Avery wolves out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Fairy tale characters unite for some such.

Tagline: "Be careful what you wish for."

Better Tagline: "Based on that musical everybody did in high school."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: The Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt) -- yes, I have to capitalize "Wife," apparently -- discover they were cursed to be childless by the Witch (Meryl Streep) next door. Talk about your bad neighbors. The only way to break the curse is by obtaining various items of repute from fairy tale characters like Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), and Cinderella (Anna Kendrick). Also, in case you didn't realize it from the trailers, it's a musical.

"Critical" Analysis: It's the most wonderful time of the year: we've survived another year on this earth and relatives have traveled from far and wide to fill our homes and share the holidays. It's also the time when studios release their "family" films to give those same relatives a place to escape from their loved ones's guest rooms for a few hours.

Into the Woods, the adaptation of James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim's Broadway musical, would appear to fit the bill pretty adequately: fairy tale characters for the kids, PG-rated innuendoes for the adults, and attractive people (Blunt, Kendrick, Chris Pine) for everyone to look at. Should be a slam dunk, right?

Having never understood the appeal of the musical, I didn't find the movie version that appealing either. The songs are unmemorable (and even less so when sung by non-singers like Streep and Pine), the characters grating (even the allegedly sympathetic ones), and the whole endeavor not nearly as clever as it aspires to be.

Though there must be some magic involved here, because the movie feels much longer than its slightly over two hour running time.

Part of the problem comes with the territory, namely cinematic technology. Much of the musical's charm came from seeing how the various productions could handle the task of fabricating the worlds of the Grimms' fabled creations. Given how relatively effortless it is to craft fantastical settings electronically, the wonder we're supposed to feel when seeing Rapunzel's tower or the collapse of Prince Charming's castle is lacking. The third act, in fact, is practically one long effects sequence (and those are never tiresome). The only ones required to use their imagination with this much green screen are the actors in the middle of it all.

But another problem is director Rob Marshall's inability to bring the musical's subversive elements into the next century while barely giving us a sense his characters are in the same story. Also, Johnny Depp ("The Wolf") needs to take a sabbatical.

Certain elements of the Broadway musical have been omitted, some (the "Mysterious Man" and Cinderella's father) out of time concerns, I suspect. Others (Snow White and Sleeping Beauty) because that whole subplot is really fucking creepy. Lack of a Narrator also means the lessons aren't delivered quite as ham-handedly in the film, but it's a lot of capering about and CGI for little ultimate reward.

Into the Woods is in theaters today. "I wish" they hadn't bothered.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar