Into the Woods (2014) (PG)

I should make a disclaimer: I never liked the musical. There, that's out in the open and now I can say whatever I want and you can't be all like "ah-ah-ah" because my prejudices are there for you to see.
"Into the Woods" holds no appeal to me as a broadway play because I think it's a lazy piece of "non-comformist" garbage that tries its best to be intricate and instead ends up messing with all your favorite stories and leaving you with a sour taste in your mouth. So let Rob Marshall make a movie out of that and see where that goes....okay, cool.
Now, Rob Marshall has done some great things and look no farther than "Chicago" to see his golden peak. Even "Nine" had its glorious moments; but with "Into the Woods", he tackles another sort of beast because it's another sort of musical altogether, isn't it?
For those of you unfamiliar with the premise of "Into the Woods", it's actually quite simple: assume that many "fairy tales" abide in the same universe, the same realm, and the same woods. As the amount of property shrinks, the characters get closer together and that is what gives "Into the Woods" some of its charm. Hey look, it's Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk meeting and talking. Cool!
The movie begins with many a character wishing for something more; but they don't deviate from theirstorybook scripted counterparts. Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) wants to go to the festival and her evil stepmother (Christine Baranski) won't let her. Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and his mother (a vastly under-appreciated Tracey Ullman) are trying to sell their cow so that they have money to eat. Then there's a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) want a child but they don't realize that they've been cursed by a witch (Meryl Streep). So they are given an opportunity at the beginning of the movie: collect a lot of random ingredients that will assemble the different tales into a movie gumbo and then bring them back to the witch for a baby-making-curse-breaking stew. Needed: one blood-red cape, hair the color of corn, a shoe of gold, and a cow the color of milk. With three nights to do it, the baker sets off into the woods and tries to start collecting the items as soon as possible.
It's clear from both the stage play and the movie that the most important story arc is that of the baker and his wife. Everything that they do is vastly more important that the rest of the characters. The witch is your plot device, showing up whenever anything runs into a hitch and explaining what happens to the rest of the clueless characters and sometimes to the audience.
So let's go and set up these tales and see how they all play-out. Cool, right?
Hmmm, maybe for you.
Besides the problem that I have with the premise of the movie itself, the music is another issue. Everyone here is a good singer, with minor exceptions; but the actual songs are not catchy enough to be singable and not screechy enough to be haunting. They can't really be hummed or sang without that "broadway" feeling of "oh god, I've fallen asleep and now I'm stuck in Seth MacFarlane's fantasies". The one-note played again and again thing might have worked in third-grade; but it doesn't work for me. Sorry.
Moving on...
The minor characters start to be introduced and we start to see the complexities that tumble out thereof. We have two princes (Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) who turns out to be the baker's sister, Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), and the big bad wolf (oh look it's that guy who's still riding off the fame of dressing up and being, I mean Johnny Depp).
Now let's add singing....*groan*.
By now you're probably thinking that all I have to say about the movie is just to tear apart the mere concept of it, and why not? That's fun. But there is more to it. "Into the Woods" has a stagey feeling, and not in a good way. It looks like it was shot on a set in a Hollywood studio garage with a few fake trees, some boulders, and a bag of leaves. The reason that "Les Misérables worked so well is that Tom Hooper understood that he couldn't confine his story to literally one set. We get it, it's in the freakin' woods! Move on!
All hail Meryl Streep! Okay, there I've said it, now I can keep going...
Besides the funny-meets-horror feeling of the movie that so inappropriately that juggles the viewer from laughing to puking and back without the blink of an eye, "Into the Woods'" dramatic shift comes far too late in the movie and by then, I didn't care.
When the inside of a stomach looks like three sheets and the woods quantifies as a bunch of leaves with a few rocks, I think you may have a serious production value issue. The costumes also suffer from this. The wolf looks comically stupid with a fake tail and a bunch of ill-placed whiskers and voila you have a high-school musical...which is what this felt like all along.
But then there's the CGI which swoops in and reminds us about how amazing it is to have practical effects.
"Into the Woods" sometimes feels like a movie in which everyone tries their hardest to be as British as possible because somehow fairy tales and singing sound better in the UK. It also tries to make sure that we understand that people screaming is unpleasant, so they do that as often and as loud as possible.
In its best moments, "Into the Woods" feels like a tapestry, woven together and spiraling back on itself; but those are few and far between.
The acting is good, mostly. Anna Kendrick has done better work and Lilla Crawford is given the thankless job of being the most annoying character in the history of cinema and naturally Johnny Depp is there for no particular reason.
There are so many better musicals for you to weep over, why not go to those?
Oh, and don't be deceived with the "PG" rating, this is not a family movie, unless you want to explain cheating on your spouse, death, and sexual awakening to your kids. By all means, go ahead then.
To be fair, there's also depression and resignation, so enjoy your popcorn and beg the movie gods for Rob Marshall to go back to making "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies, something you'd never thought you'd say.

Score: ★★

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