Romy Shiller

Into the Woods and its nominations for the 87th Academy Award

In Fantasy, Film, Mashup, Musical on April 10, 2015 at 8:55 am

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ABOUT: Into the Woods is a 2014 American musical fantasy film produced by Walt Disney Pictures. It is directed by Rob Marshall, and adapted to the screen by James Lapine from his and Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award–winning Broadway musical of the same name. It features an ensemble cast that includes Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Lilla Crawford, Daniel Huttlestone, Mackenzie Mauzy, Billy Magnussen, and Johnny Depp. Inspired by the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales of ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ ‘Cinderella,’ ‘Jack and the Beanstalk,’ and ‘Rapunzel,’ the film is a fantasy genre crossover centered on a childless couple, who set out to end a curse placed on them by a vengeful witch.

PLOT: Set in an alternate world of various Grimm fairy tales, the film intertwines the plots of several Grimm fairy tales and follows them to explore the consequences of the characters’ wishes and quests. The main characters are taken from of ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ ‘Cinderella,’ ‘Jack and the Beanstalk,’ and ‘Rapunzel,’ as well as several others. When a Baker and his Wife learn they’ve been cursed childless by a Witch, they must embark into the woods to find the objects required to break the spell and begin a family. The film is tied together to the original story of the baker and his wife, their interaction with the Witch who has placed a curse on them, and their interaction with other storybook characters during their journey. What begins as a lively irreverent fantasy musical eventually becomes a tale about responsibility, the problems and consequences that come from wishes, and the legacy that we leave our children.

If you are like me, you kind of need to dismiss the absurdity of characters breaking into song and fairytales in general. Any bias I might have is left at the door in favour of a legitimate film review. I take my reviews seriously so I really make an effort not to cloud them. My opinions reflect the universe of the film and if that universe is a musical fairytale mashup – so be it.

Are the actors talented? Sure. The cast includes Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, MacKenzie Mauzy, Christine Baranski, Tracey Ullman, Lilla Crawford, James Corden, Chris Pine, Billy Magnussen, and Emily Blunt.

Can they sing?

Yup. Anna Kendrick is a pop star/actor and Meryl Streep played the lead in the musical-film ‘Mamma Mia.’ Tracey Ullman says, “I know, I was a one hit wonder here in 1984.  ‘They don’t know about us, baby.’  We were talking this morning and Anna [Kendrick] went, ‘You really?  You had a …’  ‘Yeah.  Google me, honey.  I was on top of the pops with Boy George and Duran Duran and U2.  I was with Stiff Records with Elvis Costello back in my day.’  Yeah, I know.  I can carry a tune and I’ve loved singing all the way through my career and in my shows and things.”

There is a huge problem with consistancy though. Given that this is a mashup, I would expect certain anomalies but the inconsistencies are flaws not anomalies. It is fun to see characters from different stories interacting and the emphasis, like the extremely popular animated film ‘Frozen,’ is child empowerment – commendable but unfortunately, I see the flaws.

Bustle.com says; Casting actors who don’t identify as singers in musicals is always a gamble, whether it’s on Broadway or the latest film adaptation. Nobody likes it when talent is traded for name recognition…

Sondheim often writes for actors and actresses who can’t sing as strongly as the big Broadway belters. Sure, The Witch was originally played by powerhouse diva and infamous back-phraser Bernadette Peters…

The acting is what counts, and different characters call for different ranges.

Bustle.com agrees that Johnny Depp is fine as the Big Bad Wolf but his voice is the weakest of the cast. MacKenzie Mauzy plays Rapunzel but her singing is very limited. Christine Baranski as The Wicked Stepmother is fabulous in that role but her singing just isn’t memorable. Tracey Ullman as Jack’s Mother is great and so is her voice.

Anna Kendrick is so wonderful here I almost forgot she was Cinderella [a compliment]. Lilla Crawford plays Little Red Riding Hood. She played Annie on Broadway and although she is talented, she needs to sing in many different roles because she is recreating Annie here. James Corden is a butcher and is very good here. Chris Pine plays the Prince mockingly. I wish the entire cast did this. Meryl Streep as the Witch is better suited to this role than her role in Mama Mia. I do not imagine that she will get any awards here but you never know. Billy Magnussen as Rapunzel’s Prince is better than Chris Pine. Sorry. Emily Blunt as the Butcher’s Wife is good but her aspirations are limited to having a child… Daniel Huddlestone as Jack [and the Beanstock] was amazing.

I am disbelieving that I am going to say that many of the themes here are relevant – especially child empowerment, strong female characters and less than ideal, fairy-tale happy endings… Common Sense Media says, A lascivious wolf preys on a young girl, children lose and are separated from their parents, sympathetic characters die, handsome princes aren’t all they appear to be, and there’s no promise of happy ending for anyone. Mashups are a popular contemporary stylistic device and lately there is a flurry of musical film.

Cinderella sings to Little Red Riding Hood near the end, “Witches can be right/Giants can be good/You decide what’s right/You decide what’s good.” The emphasis is not a black and white definition of certain roles. It would be a mistake to view this film as ‘feminist’ though. It’s absolutely not. Most of the female characters are 1 dimensional and most of the feminine quests involve youth, beauty, marriage, children etc.

I did like this film and would recommend it for children and their parents.

 

87th Academy Awards

Colleen Atwood is nominated for costume design.

Dennis Gassner is nominated for Production Design

Anna Pinnock is nominated for Set Decoration

 

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