Who knew Chris Pine could sing? Certainly not me when I started watching the film version of Into the Woods knowing only that it starred the Cup Song girl, Meryl Streep as a witch, and Johnny Depp as an insane wonderland creature as per usual. Those were the reasons I sat down to watch, and those were the least of the reasons why I loved it!
Musicals. You either love them or hate them. I’ve met few people who are indifferent toward movies where actors spontaneously burst into song, and Into the Woods is a musical. Unlike many of my peers, I spent my childhood watching musicals. The old-fashioned kind like My Fair Lady and Showboat, Oklahoma and Camelot. While other kids were singing along to Spice Girls, I was singing full renditions of songs from Oliver and Annie! I was also part of a stage arts academy, frequently performing in musicals and Broadway-style shows, particularly all the Andrew Lloyd Webber stuff. Point is, I grew up on musicals and still have a passion for them to this day with one of my all time favorite films being Across the Universe. When my favourite SFF genre and music combine, I am truly in heaven! (I really should write a review of Repo, the Genetic Opera *makes a note*).
So, Into the Woods scored points just for being a musical, then it scored additional points for presenting a dark and sometimes off-color twist on beloved Disney characters. If you’re unfamiliar with the original Sondheim stage production, do take note that despite the innocuous looking poster and the fact that this is technically a Disney movie, this is in no way a children’s movie. Well, kids could probably watch it but they wouldn’t (hopefully) catch some of the darker and more subtle things going on in this story.
The film, like the play, is an unapologetic play on fairytale tropes, frequently teetering into parody. The premise boils down to an old adage: be careful what you wish for. In this case, the whole ensemble cast should’ve heeded that warning but of course they don’t and so we get this fantastical romp featuring Little Red (the Riding Hood part implied), Anna Kendrick as Cinderella and McKenzie Mauzy as Rapunzel. Emily Blunt plays the role of a baker’s wife who inadvertently kicks off the entire story, Meryl Streep plays the witch, and Johnny Depp has a brief but super creepy cameo as the Big Bad Wolf. Also, Chris Pine plays Prince Eyebrows, er… Charming, and did I mention this guy can actually sing?
While the plot is delightfully silly in a typical fairytale kind of way, what really pulls this whole story together is the music. The songs are fantastic! If you are unfamiliar with musicals and the musical motifs they often employ, some of the finer points of humor might escape you, but for any musical aficionados or musos in the know, the score is rife with snark and tongue-in-cheek moments poking fun at the ‘serious’ musicals. The lyrics are also incredibly clever and liberally sprinkled with innuendo. I’m a little sad they cut out some of the more violent and sexy content from the stage original, but I guess they really wanted that PG rating for the film.
This brings me to Depp’s cameo, and what has got to be the most bizarre and uncomfortable few minutes of the film. Depp is brilliant, of course, and is perfectly creepy as the wolf who hungers for more than a literal nibble on the young Little Red. I’m surprised the less-than-subtle innuendo in the relationship between Wolf and Little Red even made it into this film, but I’m glad it did because the entire story is all about re-imagining these fairytales in dark and twisted ways. No, the word I’m looking for is sinister and Into the Woods has sinister in spades even when it’s cleverly disguised with humor.
I loved this film and spent a good portion of it in stitches. The problems arose when the movie actually wanted you take it seriously and tried to throw some emotional punches. Around the 1.20 minute mark, I checked to see how much was left of the film – never a good sign. It was around about here when the story tried to take itself seriously that I wanted things to wrap-up in the unhappily ever after direction the story seemed to be headed. Nope, we got another forty minutes of story that wasn’t really necessary and the Rapunzel storyline kind of got brushed aside, which did not please me because McKenzie Mauzy was lovely and deserved more screen time. So did her prince – Charming’s little brother!
Up until the 1.20 mark this film would’ve got 10 ink splats from me, but that last half hour dragged. I actually paused to walk the dog, read email and make tea, before finally finishing the thing, and while I did enjoy the rest of the songs, the same sense of black humor and tongue-in-cheek quipping seemed to disappear, leaving the ending feel a lot more traditional considering the rest of the film. That said, this was still a fun – if a little nutty – movie that I would be happy to sit through the first 90 minutes of again. The cast sings incredibly welland the music was suitably cheesy, adding to the parody vibe.
The other glaring problem I had with the film was the lack of diversity. Is there a rule somewhere that says when re-imagining Disney stories, all main characters must be white? One might argue the setting is a pseudo-Germanic Grimm-esque world and therefore PoC are an unlikely find, but that argument holds no water considering this is a ‘re-imagining’. How about conjuring up some PoC there Disney? The lack of color is made even more conspicuous by its absence when Cinderella walks into the castle past the one and only black person in the entire film. Including the profile of a black man for all of 2 seconds in a 2-hour long movie otherwise peopled by whites, is not diversity. It’s not even tokenism. It’s… bizarre. How refreshing it would’ve been to have a pair of black princes instead of Chris ‘Captain Kirk’ Pine and his blond-haired, blue-eyed little brother, but alas, I fear I ask too much from Hollywood.
Overall, I recommend this movie to fans of musicals who don’t mind off-color humor and are looking for something a little unusual and purely for fun. This gets 4/5 ink splats from me.