(The Disneycember logo is shown, before showing clips from Into the Woods)
Doug (vo): By popular demand, it's Into the Woods, the famous Stephen Sondheim musical. I actually saw this play in the theater appreciation class once. I remember thinking, "Wow! This is incredibly clever and really smart...but it's kind of not really my thing." I knew the music was great, and in many respects, it was ahead of its time, throwing these twists on fairy tales that now seem to be everywhere, (Posters for the musical Wicked and the film Maleficent are shown briefly) but it's not something I listen to over and over and over. However, I also never thought they would make a movie out of it, because, well, it's one of the hardest adaptations you can do. On top of so many characters, there's a bunch of different tones and a lot of uncomfortable adult themes, and...a lot of dark elements that really wouldn't mix well with the movie-going audience that's looking more for a musical comedy in this kind of setup. Does it pay off? Well, let's look at the story. Or...stories, I should say.
Doug (vo): It's pretty much all the classic fairy tale characters, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella and so forth. Every one of them starts off wishing for something greater than what they have. Cinderella wants to go to the ball, Rapunzel wants to be free, so on and so forth. A good chunk of the focus is on the Baker and his Wife, who just want to have a child. But a crazy witch, played by Meryl Streep, comes in and lets them know that the reason she can't have a child is because she cursed them, because of a terrible act the Baker's father did years ago. In order to relieve the curse, they have to get all sorts of various items that tie into the other fairy tale characters, and in a very short amount of time. Everybody's running around, singing songs, trying to get their goals done, and when everything seems resolved and fixed, it turns out we're only at the halfway point. Suddenly, all their achieved goals and happily ever afters, it turns out, isn't what they were looking for, or didn't turn out like they expected. Thus, the second half of the movie is actually trying to pick up the problems of the original problems that they had in the first half.
Doug (vo): Kind of a strange story out for a movie, huh? Especially one that's based on a two-and-a-half hour musical. And that is the film's biggest problem. This is obviously meant for a Broadway crowd. With a Broadway audience, you know there's gonna be an intermission, so when you get to the halfway point and it looks like everyone's gonna live happily ever after, it's really funny to hear the narrator say, "End of Part 1". With a movie, however, you're thinking it's really going to end and you're gonna go home soon, and then you're sort of disappointed when you find out there's at least 45 minutes left. I remember at that point, a lot of people were checking their watches saying, "Good Lord, how long is this movie?" And the irony is, I actually like the second half more than the first half, despite the fact that they cut a lot out. But, again, I can see why. It's a movie-going audience, and this is really tough to keep people's attention when it's set up like this. This either needed an intermission or needed to be two movies, and honestly, I can't see that happening in this day and age, not with Into the Woods.
[Meryl Streep's character, the Witch, is shown, before showing several scenes describing the film's tone]
Doug (vo): While most of the actors are good, including Meryl Streep, who's really yukking it up - she reminds me of Glenn Close from 101 Dalmatians, but still has those softer moments, too - the tone is all over the place. Things that the original show had subtle are suddenly made extreme, and things that the show had extreme are suddenly made subtle, and sometimes they work, sometimes they don't, but to be honest, even in the Broadway play, it was kind of hard to get a feel for it. The original show had really goofy stuff, like at some point, they feed the narrator to a giant. That's really funny. But then, at other points, some main characters die off, and in really tragic ways, and they sing these really sad songs about it. It's like, "Wait a minute, didn't we just get rid of the narrator a second ago? Breaking the fourth wall? How do these two things mix?" Back then, that was very new and experimental for Broadway, especially considering the original fairy tales, but in a film, this is really hard to transfer over. In fact, a lot of the comedy is sucked out to replace it with a lot of really heavy adult elements, like abandonment issues, adultery, separation anxiety, mom and daddy issues, death of a pet, death of a family member, death of a friend, responsibilities of husband and wife.
[Johnny Depp's character, the Big Bad Wolf, is shown]
Doug (vo): Don't get me wrong, the original musical sort of had these undertones with the Big Bad Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood, but good God! Johnny Depp in this version? They take those undertones and turn them into "Holy shit! In your face! How could this be mistaken for anything else?" overtones! Even the song Red Riding Hood sings to the hunter afterwards, I now hear in a totally different way, and it's really uncomfortable! On the one hand, I give them credit that they went full-force and just did it, but...again, this is weird!
[Various clips mostly showing the film's visuals and atmosphere are shown]
Doug (vo): So hearing all this, you probably think I really don't like the movie, and, yeah. On the whole, I don't think it works and didn't quite come together, but at the same time, it is such a tough adaptation. And as someone who did find the show interesting, I don't regret seeing it, 'cause I wanted to see how they were gonna try and do a lot of this. And some of the choices are very clever. I really like the visuals when you see Red Riding Hood and the Grandma in the Wolf's stomach, that was really creative. I love the way the atmosphere really captures the characters' emotions in the second half, which is strange, because the first half that has all the giants running around and fantasy stuff is actually played very safe. Not that much grand creativity, it's mostly just done in medium shots. But even then, there's some things that work, like I remember there's a song where Cinderella's trying to think about what to do and they actually freeze time. That was a cool effect. There's another great shot when Johnny Depp howls like a wolf, and we get this cool silhouette. I really wanted more of those, but for the couple that we got, it wasn't that bad.
[A couple of the film's song sequences are shown]
Doug (vo): The real star of the movie is the music. I think that is one of the advantages to the film being so straightforward and the way it's shot is that it allows the music to really excel. You're not really being distracted by all these crazy visuals being thrown at you, you're constantly listening to the nice melodies and the clever lyrics. And like I said, even though the second half has a lot of those songs cut out, they still sound pretty nice. I was really shocked at how well Meryl Streep did with some of the slower songs. I know she doesn't always get the pitch or the notes right, but, I don't know. I thought she selled it okay, in between all the other goofy scenes she has, of course.
Doug (vo): So, would I recommend it? Only if you're curious to see how the Broadway show is adapted, because it is neat to check out. If you're curious about the choices they make or what they leave in or take away, it's...neat to see as an experiment. But if you're looking for a completed work that masterfully mixes the complex with the simple, this doesn't quite balance out. I'm glad I saw it, but more just to see how they did it. It's by no means awful, and I appreciate a lot of what they tried to do. And I'm happy at the moments when it really did succeed. But it's definitely a mess and, to its credit, I don't know how I would fix it. Do you cut out more? Do you add more? Do you make it more visually interesting or do you play it down even more so the music shines? It's all over. I don't know if this musical ever can properly be turned to a good film, but it was a valiant attempt. And sometimes, I don't mind checking those out. If you're in the right mood or just a little curious, give it a chance and see their best effort.
[One of the film's scenes, showing a beautiful landscape, is played as we fade to black]