Into the Woods with the Spawn

The Spawn had some of her friends over for a sleepover/slumber party/hangout last night to welcome the new year, and after the other girls departed, the Spawn and I went to Real City to see the movie version of Sondheim’s Into the Woods.

There were very few Y chromosomes in the house, and the previews reflected that. There was one for a movie that looked like a cross between 8 Seconds and The Notebook, and I believe I saw the baleful credit for Nicholas Sparks along the way. There was also one for a Kevin Costner flick, where he plays an uptight middle-aged guy who is raising his biracial granddaughter when her African American grandmother decides to take a larger role in the kid’s life. Doubtless there will be learning and hugs. Finally, there appear to be a number of films coming soon that feature Plucky Young Women who Put Things Right, ranging from an a capella competition to the fate of the planet. All of them seemed about as enticing as a warm pitcher of Ebola, but it’s not like I’m the target audience.

Finally it was time for the feature. I’m not the biggest fan of musicals — at least those of the post-Technicolor era. However, I actually saw a production of Into the Woods the Mondoville theater department staged a couple of years ago, directed by the keyboardist for the Berries and featuring another former student of mine as the Baker’s Wife (who eventually became the Director’s Wife — hello, Kasey and Joseph!). I enjoyed that production, and so the prospect of the film wasn’t as dreary as going to see, say, Wicked or Cats or Les Miz. Besides, if Sondheim is good enough for Tom Lehrer, he’s good enough for me. And I had popcorn.

So all told? It was pretty good. The acting was solid — I only knew a few of the actors (Depp,  Streep, Christine Baranski, and Tracy Ullman), so I didn’t have preconceived notions of the others, and didn’t see anything hacky enough to put me off. The vocal performances were solid as well. (I’m assuming the actors did their own vocals, but I could be wrong.) Depp’s Big Bad Wolf owed as much to Tex Avery as the Brothers Grimm, and reminded us why he’s usually directed by Tim Burton. (As an aside, the Spawn wonders whether Burton or Helena Bonham Carter will get custody of Depp after the divorce.) Streep only chewed a little of the scenery as the Witch, but seemed to be enjoying herself. I thought Ullman may have been a bit underused as Jack’s mother, and the child actors who played Jack and Red Riding Hood weren’t any more irritating than child actors tend to be. My daughter identified the female leads (Anna Kendrick as Cinderella, and Emily Blunt — who may have been the best of the lot — as the Baker’s Wife), so apparently somebody knows who these folks are.

One nice thing about the movie was that the mix and volume were appropriate. I could understand the lyrics very well, and I didn’t leave with my ears ringing like I had been to a Motorhead show — which happens too often at the movies these days. But here I came to what may be my biggest problem with the show: If you asked me to sing any of the tunes, I don’t think I could. I remember snatches of lyrics, and I remember noticing clever bits of stichomythia as I sat there, but now, two and a half hours later, none of the tunes have stuck with me. That may be a failing on my part, but since I do remember songs from, say, Hair or even South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, it makes me wonder how well the musical works as musical.

Something else I wondered about was the number of tweens and early teens in the audience. I’m not sure that the themes of loss of innocence and acceptance of responsibility necessarily resonated with the crowd at this particular showing — but maybe I’m selling them short.

So in sum, this wasn’t exactly Singin’ in the Rain or Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, but it was a pleasant couple of hours with my favorite teenager, and as we tossed pennies into the fountain in front of the cinema s we waited for Mrs. M to pick us up after shopping, that was more than enough for a very happy New Year’s Day.

 

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About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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4 Responses to Into the Woods with the Spawn

  1. Andrew Stevens says:

    If you asked me to sing any of the tunes, I don’t think I could. I remember snatches of lyrics, and I remember noticing clever bits of stichomythia as I sat there, but now, two and a half hours later, none of the tunes have stuck with me. That may be a failing on my part, but since I do remember songs from, say, Hair or even South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, it makes me wonder how well the musical works as musical.

    That’s actually the standard critique of Sondheim.

  2. Andrew Stevens says:

    Although you mention Sondheim, Depp, Carter, and Burton in this post, you neglect to mention whether you have seen Sweeney Todd. That’s the movie made from a Sondheim musical that I would recommend. I haven’t seen the film Into the Woods, but my opinion of the musical was that it had a great first act which was badly let down by a frankly poor second act.

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