Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

Review: Into the Woods

The annual Christmastime pilgrimage to Florida is pretty much de rigeur for me and Kate: my parents live on Sanibel, hers on Fort Myers Beach (basically, next island over), so it's the efficient way to see all four of them. However, this year was less of a mob than sometimes -- most of my family wasn't there (the rest had come for Thanksgiving instead, but we couldn't cope with the travel), so Kate and I got a condo to ourselves, and had a mellow time of it. I largely relaxed, and got in some much-wanted reading time -- I finally finished Five Hundred Years After, and got well into The Viscount of Adrilankha, having finally acclimated to the distinctive writing style -- and we mostly got together with parents for meals.

We did have one particular outing with Kate's folks on the last night, though, to see the new film adaptation of Sondheim's musical, Into the Woods.

Summary: quite good, and particularly *much* better than I was fearing. (Note that I hadn't seen the show until this year, at which point Kate took me to the local production *and* showed me the original Broadway version, so it was fairly fresh in my mind.)

For the Sondheim fans, it can be described concisely as, they didn't screw it up. Oh, they needed to trim and tweak it here and there -- I suspect that it would have suffered if they had tried to be too faithful to the stage show, and would have missed some opportunities -- and I'm sure you can argue about any given change. But by and large, it was far more faithful to the original than different from it, and indeed, I didn't even notice most of the tweaks until Kate pointed them out afterwards. That was an enormous relief: I'd been hearing all sorts of rumors, up to and including gutting the emotional punch at the end of the story. None of them proved to be true.

Even more importantly, everything was done well, and with attention to detail. Casting in particular was excellent -- standouts included a *great* portrayal of The Baker's Wife, a remarkably good Jack (they actually got a kid who could sing well enough, so they didn't have to take the usual out of casting him as an adult and portraying him as a simpleton), and Meryl Streep doing a fine job of channeling Bernadette Peters. (Although Kate wondered, quite reasonably, why they didn't simply hire Peters to do it.) The only one I didn't entirely buy was Johnny Depp's Wolf: he was nicely committed to the part, but his singing wasn't as good as the rest, and I found the portrayal almost *too* creepy when paired with an eleven-year-old Red Riding Hood.

Still, it was a lot of fun, with a lot of standout numbers, ranging from competitive shirt-ripping-off in Agony, to a really inspired reimagining of Steps of the Palace. I was quite surprised to find that I would actually consider buying this one on DVD.

Now, for those of you who *haven't* seen the stage show, some additional comments are in order. First and most importantly, this does not fit any standard stereotype of "Disney movie". Yes, it is built around fairy tales, but they tend to be a bit more the original Grimm than the bowdlerized modernisms. Everyone notes that the story is "dark", but that word is too broad. This isn't "dark" in the usual modern sense, of a story that is violent but still hews closely to modern mythology and easy morality. The second act (roughly the last third of the movie) is just plain *real* in a way that is kind of startling in a fairy tale: there is a lot of hard emotional truth that isn't easily wrapped up in platitudes. (Even though some of the characters try.) Granted, my nerves will probably always be sensitive to stories of loss, but it's worth noting that I pretty much always cry through the end of the story.

Also, this is Sondheim at his best. That means that the music (which is omnipresent, even by Disney standards) is both brilliant and challenging -- simultaneously earworm-inducing and relatively tricky to hum.

Overall, worth seeing if you already like Sondheim and *well* worth seeing if you haven't seen the show before. But I'd be thoughtful about bringing kids to it -- you might want to, but I suspect it will occasion some difficult discussions afterwards...
Tags: reviews

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