Sunday, December 28, 2014

Into the Woods Review

About two years ago, I reviewed a movie called Les Misérables. I think some of you may have heard of it? For me personally, it was a pretty miserable experience. Because I'm always honest in my reviews, I let people know that I wasn't a fan and boy did I get backlash on that one. I feel like all the Les Mis fans got together and jumped me, giving me quite the horrible beating that left me scarred for life. Ok, that's an exaggeration. What's not an exaggeration is that there were at least a few people that never trusted my reviews again and I was given the label by several others as someone who hated musicals. Now all the people disagreeing with my opinion on that movie didn't bother me that much. I'm an opinionated person and thus I'm used to people disagreeing with me. What did bother me was that label. Say what you want about my opinions, but at least get them right. I personally LOVE musicals. I just didn't like THAT musical, but no matter how many times I said that, I couldn't get rid of that label. So now fast-forwarding time to this year, when Disney had this major musical coming out, I got excited. Not just because I enjoy musicals, but I was happy to show the world that I do by giving one a huge amount of praise. I crossed my fingers that this plan would work out. Lucky for me it has. Into the Woods is not only a dang good musical, but it's also one of my favorite movies of 2014.

I'm going to go right out here and say that I don't know much about the Broadway musical this is based off of. So if you are wanting a review of here's what the play does vs. here's what the movie does with all the comparisons and contrasts that go with it, you're not going to get that. Because I know nothing about the original play. This review is strictly a judgment of what I saw on the screen. And when it comes to musicals, the most import thing to look at is the music itself. Now there's a few ways to do movie musicals. First, you can cast the actors that fit your role regardless of their musical talent and just auto-tune their voices to sound perfect. Second, you can cast the actors that fit your role regardless of their musical talent and use their natural, unaltered voices regardless of how good they are. Third, you can cast the actors that fit your role who also actually know how to sing. The first method is cheating and makes the musical actually sound bad. Yes, I'm looking at you 2014 Annie remake. The second method has it's support. People appreciate the natural, raw aspect of the terrible singers doing their best. But I'm sorry. It hurts my ears. Russell Crowe should never do another musical in his life. Every time he started singing in Les Mis, it made me want to punch him in the face. And then there were a few other singers in Les Mis who over-sang their parts. Not cool either. Into the Woods on the other hand took the third route. Everyone in that movie actually knew how to sing and they all did a dang good job. There was no Russell Crowe moment at all. All of the music was actually enjoyable.

Another reason why I loved the music in Into the Woods is that it followed the style of musical that I enjoy. They had talking moments. In other words, they talked, then they sang, then they talked, then they sang. You get my vibe. I'm sorry, I just don't like the opera-style of musical where 100 percent of the musical is singing. I've tried to appreciate it more. I went to a couple of operas in the last couple of years in order to become more acquainted with the style, and I guess it's not bad. It's just not as entertaining for me. And it's harder for me to follow the story and appreciate the story when all they do is sing. I appreciate the style of musical where they have normal, non-singing dialogue. Fiddler on the Roof, The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins and hundreds of other musicals that I actually enjoy all take this route. This is what Into the Woods does as well. This sounds like a silly complaint, but I felt like I needed to get that out. Finally, and probably most importantly, I loved the individual songs in Into the Woods. Sometimes when you are watching a musical, they start singing and you're listening to the music, but you aren't feeling inspired by the music or you're not getting into it. Those are boring moments that make for bad musicals. I promise I'm not taking a specific jab at any musical with that comment, but it's happened in my life before. You have to have great music in a musical or else the musical just sucks. Into the Woods had great music. I was not familiar with it before going in, but I enjoyed the heck out of it to the point where I want to go listen to it more and become more familiar with it. That's the sign of a great musical.

Now about this plot. If you are like me and you are unfamiliar with the Broadway musical, Into the Woods combines a bunch of classic fairy tales all into one. You have Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Cinderella all in one world happening at the exact same time. And on top of that, you have the story of the baker and his wife. A witch comes to them and says they will never have any children unless they collect Jack's cow, Rapunzel's hair, Red's cloak, and Cinderella's shoe in the next few days. She didn't use those words, but that's what I'm using because it's easier. This makes for quite the enjoyable, entertaining ride as you see all of these stories crossing over in quite a brilliant way. I loved every second of it. Then we get to the second half and things take quite the turn. This is where I've been hearing the most complaints. And I don't understand them at all because the second half of this movie turned a fun musical into an incredible musical. I'm not going to go into all the details of the plot, because I think it's better for you to discover that part on your own, but essentially what this does is dive into the question of what happens AFTER the happily ever after. Is life just all rainbows and butterflies for the rest of forever? No. And in diving into this, there are a whole ton of themes that are just inspiring. I was moved. I was touched. I was almost brought to tears. This is a very deep and powerful story that I just fell in love with.

What made all of this work was the amazing cast. Not only were they all talented singers, but they all pulled off amazing acting jobs as well. You have arguably the greatest actresses in Hollywood history holding the whole story together, that being the great Meryl Streep as the witch. At the very least, she's Oscar's favorite actress of all time as she's been nominated a mind-blowing 18 times. This performance will most likely get her nomination 19 and that will be well-deserved. Giving us a powerful trio of ladies in this movie to go along with Meryl is Emily Blunt and Anna Kendrick, playing the baker's wife and Cinderella respectively. It's been a great year for Emily Blunt is she's now starred in two of my favorite movies of the year with this one and Edge of Tomorrow. And I am a big fan of Anna Kendrick. I think she's literally the only bright part of Pitch Perfect. And she's good in lots of other roles, too.

On the male side of things, James Corden is brilliant as the baker. I'd say he almost stole the whole show, but he didn't because everyone did a great job. What his performance did do is officially make me excited for him taking over Craig Ferguson's spot. Man, Stephen Colbert followed by James Corden? That's going to be great! Next up is something you better take notes on because you don't hear this very often, but I loved Chris Pine as Cinderella's prince. I don't usually like Chris Pine. In fact I hate him in the Star Trek movies. But I really love it when an actor I normally dislike turns around and surprises the heck out of me. It's great. Johnny Depp is also in this movie for a brief stint as the wolf. My only complaint on that front is that I wanted more of him. But oh well. He does great in the little time that he gets. Wrapping up the adult parts are probably the weakest characters in the movie. I wasn't a huge fan of Mackenzie Mauzy and Billy Magnussen as Rapunzel and her prince, but they did fine.

Last but not least might be my two favorite characters. The younger two. 13-year-old Lilla Crawford played Red Riding Hood and 15-year-old Daniel Huttlestone played Jack. Both are adorable and do an extremely good job in this. Daniel actually played Gavroche in Les Mis, which was one of the best parts of that movie in my opinion. So he's two for two in my book. And this was Lilla's film debut, so great job for her. Apparently she's done some great work on Broadway already, so that's cool. I wish both of them a very bright and successful future. It's not that often that I can spend this much time talking about the cast of a movie. But it needed it. This is one of the best ensembles that I've seen all year. Everyone did a great job.

So in the end, Into the Woods is a musical that just gets everything right. No, I have not seen the Broadway musical version that this is inspired by, but I hear that it's even better and more inspiring than the movie. If that's the case, then I really want to search that out so I can experience this for myself. Into the Woods has an extremely talented cast. Not only do all of them do a great job of singing, but they all pull off a great acting job as well. The story in this is very fun during the first half as you see all of these fairy tales interweave and very moving during the second half as you watch all the deep life lessons unfold. Finally, the music in this is amazing. All the songs are beautifully written both lyrically and musically. So yes, all this combined makes for one of the better musicals that I have seen in a long time and definitely one of the best movies of 2014. There were a lot of great movies in 2014 that are going to make it tough for me to make my top 10 best movies of the year list, so I'm not going to guarantee that this will show up. But at the very least it will get strong consideration for one of those spots, which is a big complement given how many movies I have seen this year. Into the Woods is definitely deserving of a strong 9/10 from me.

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