A Cinematic Journey Into The Woods

into_the_woods

Based on the Stephen Sondheim play of the same name, Into the Woods is Disney’s big holiday movie for 2014.  The play itself is a tale about morality, vice, desire, and virtue.  Based on the concept that each fairy tale is supposed to teach us or our children a lesson to help them in life.  However the twist here is that several fairy tales collide to create the pillars of a whole new story where the object lesson is centered around the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for.”

I have to be perfectly honest here, before seeing this movie I knew very little to nothing about it.  Having never seen the play before or read much about it, never having heard the songs, I was going in blind.  There had been some brief discussion with my Disney Film Project Podcast co-hosts which contained a great deal of excitement from our own Rachel Kolb, who happens to be a huge fan of the play and knows a great deal about it.  When I’m in this situation I try not to come in with too many preconceptions.

The core story is about a Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt) and their desire to start a family.  However they quickly learn that they have been cursed by their next door neighbor who happens to be a Witch played by Meryl Streep who really steals every scene she’s in.  Wanting to break the curse, and be able to have a child, the Witch assigns them to retrieve 4 seemingly normal items and bring them to her in 3 days time.  The trick however is that this sends them on a collision course with the fairy tales Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel. 4 items.  4 stories.

The problem however is that the wishes of each of the major characters – the Baker, his Wife, the Witch, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack, and Rapunzel – have consequences.  Each of their stories plays out somewhat as you know them, but it’s what happens after this that matters.  But the wishes themselves are just allegorical wrappings for the choices the characters continue to make throughout the story.  And how they have to learn to take responsibility for those choices.

There is a lot of commentary that discusses the difference between the musical and the movie, from the removal of songs, to the changes of plot elements.  While not having seen the play, I’m guessing this serves 2 purposes; the shorter time a movie has to tell a story, and that some things that work on stage do not work as well on film.  While this is a somewhat dark story that has some moments that you may need to either explain or gloss over to your children, this is still a family film.  I might consider the age and maturity of any pre-teen children before seeing this film with them.  This is a very solid movie, based on a well constructed story, that I greatly enjoyed watching.

In addition to doing the web design and programming for the On the Go in MCO website, Todd Perlmutter is a host for the Disney Film Project Podcast.

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Les Miserables With Shane – Do You Hear That Ambient Noise?

Les Miserables With Shane – Do You Hear That Ambient Noise?

Shane Grizzard takes us along to the movies with his review of Les Miserables! 

Les Miserables

Last week I got the second greatest Hanukkah gift ever when Shelley invited me to go see the Les Miserables film a week early and cover it for the site. I was very excited because, contrary to popular belief, I’ve never seen a true production of Les Mis before, despite my background in theatre. The only time I’ve ever seen it partially was PBS’s 25th anniversary concert, which was very hard to follow along because there was little scenery, props or stage direction.

Les Miserables is a musical based on Victor Hugo’s famous novel that tells the story of several families’ lives over the years leading up to the [failed] Paris Uprising of 1832. The main conflict follows Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a reformed convict, and Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), the officer trying to recapture him for breaking parole.

I invited my friend Mike along to the early screening, partly because he’s a Les Mis veteran- his cousin played Gavroche on Broadway for a year and they saw it like 12 times- so he would be a good contrasting opinion to my newbie voice. Going in, he kept telling me to pay attention the revolutionary new way they filmed the singing. You see, in the past when movie musicals were made they would record the soundtrack first and then when you went to film the scene the actors would lip sync to the song. In Les Mis they decided to film the singing live in the moment while a pianist played in the actors’ ears off screen and then add the orchestrations in post production. Theoretically, this would create a more theatrical experience, allowing the actors to be more emotionally involved in the scene. Sounds good, right?

I have to say this was my biggest pet peeve for the first half of the film. Perhaps it was the acoustics of some of the spaces where they filmed. Perhaps it was because of the ambient noise in some of the scenes. Perhaps it was because my heart was two sizes too small. (Wait- right holiday, wrong story.) But it kept taking me out of the scene. For some reason it didn’t feel like a musical and more like just people randomly singing out of nowhere. At points I just wanted the actors to stop crying and finish singing the dang song!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCPoIsi8m08&feature=share&list=PLA01F605EEACAC54B

Another issue I had was there are many “inner monologue” moments throughout the musical. You know like in a Shakespearean play where a character would step out and say what they were thinking or explain something to the audience. This works well on the stage but feels odd when you try to adapt it to film, especially when the actors are singing every moment out loud and not keeping their thoughts in their heads. One particular moment, the student Marius (Eddie Redmayne) was thanking his best friend Eponine (Samantha Barks) for finding the love of his life Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), a girl whom he had only seen once across a crowded square (don’t get me started). Eponine is standing off to the side singing aloud about how every word is like a dagger in her heart and she wishes he would just see her for once- ALL FIVE FEET FROM THE GUY. I kept expecting him to turn and say “I’m sorry, did you you say something?”

The actors were hit and miss. I went in to this with very low expectations of Russell Crowe. Yes, he’s sung in his own band before, but can he carry one of leads in this major almost-operatic musical? Personally, I thought Crowe did better than I expected, but as Mike went on to point out he still wasn’t on the caliber of every Broadway actor who’s played the role before him, especially when placed against Hugh Jackman, a stage veteran. Sacha Baron Cohen (who played Thénardier) couldn’t sing either, but was very funny in his little improvisations and quips with Helena Bonham Carter. Unfortunately though there was very little comedy to cut through this extremely dramatic film.

All that being said, as many issues as I had with Les Mis, I found the next day I was longing to go back and see it again! The movie was epic and and the score was beautiful. If you’re a fan of the musical, rest assured they cut barely anything out. Mike and I could only think of one or two small songs that weren’t there. If you’re not a fan, be warned they cut barely anything out and you’re walking into a three hour musical with no intermission. Definitely go to the bathroom before you see the film!

My conclusion: Though I had many issues with the production of this film and its transition from stage to screen and I wouldn’t put it in my list of Top 5 Films of 2012, it was still enjoyable! Go see it, if you’re into epic musicals about depressing miserable French people!

I hope you have a happy holidays!

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