Movie musicals have been a pretty popular trend in music history. The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson, was first full-length movie with synchronized sound – and it also featured singing. From there, Singin’ in the Rain, The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, and even Rocky Horror Picture Show have all gone down as classics – or cult classics – in the world of movie musicals.
In the past 15 years we’ve seen a surprising resurgence in popularity for this type of movie. Broadway musicals have been adapted from the stage to the big screen, including Les Miserables, Rent, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Dreamgirls. The most recent musical to be adapted into a musical is the Stephen Sondheim show Into the Woods.
Into the Woods, which was first performed on Broadway in 1987, focuses on numerous fairy tale characters and how their stories become intertwined as they all end up lost in the woods. While Jack trades away a cow for magic beans, Cinderella’s Prince laments with his brother, Rapunzel’s Prince, about his love life. Meanwhile, a baker and his wife just want a child and strike up a deal with a not-quite-evil-but-not-quite-good witch.
If you are looking for a cheery, happy-go-lucky musical, this is not the movie for you. As is typical with most Stephen Sondheim musicals, Into the Woods is a dark take on fairy tales with plenty of inspiration from the Grimm brothers. Much like in Sondheim’s most popular musical, Sweeney Todd, no one is 100% good or 100% evil. The characters’ moral ambiguity is true to the source material from the Grimm Brothers; just because Disney is producing this film does not mean the characters will be like their animated counterparts. As is the case with most of Sondheim’s musicals, no one – not even the narrator – is safe, and not everyone gets a happy ending. However, Disney has toned down the more intense moments of the musical to make it a bit more family friendly.
Sondheim’s musical trademark is intricate melodies with lots of words, and Into the Woods does not disappoint. In the song “Into the Woods,” the characters sing ridiculous notes as they talk of the tasks they must face. You need to have some serious singing chops to be able to pull it off, so we have to hope the cast can handle it.
The upcoming movie features an all-star cast, including Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp – who have both had experience with movie musicals – as well as Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, and Emily Blunt. While we’ve heard some of the cast members singing in previous movie musicals, we have to trust that the casting directors have chosen people who can carry their respective roles. Rob Marshall, who won the Academy Award for Best Picture when he directed Chicago, directed this movie, which holds a lot of promise for the finished product.
Movie musicals used to be the prom queens of the movie industry – everyone knows about them, and a part of you likes them, but at the end of the day you don’t take them too seriously. However, recently movie musicals have been getting more credit at award ceremonies. With Chicago winning the Oscar for Best Picture in 2002 and Anne Hathaway receiving an Oscar for her performance in Les Miserables, there’s a chance that Into the Woods could be a contender at the Oscars this year. While it certainly won’t sweep at the awards ceremony, there’s always the chance that Meryl Streep could add another trophy to her collection.
I’ll be honest: when I first heard the title, I thought Into the Woods was going to be some kind of transcendentalist film with people seeking a pastoral life in the woods – hunting for game, filtering their water, and generally living off the land in relative peace and quiet. From the look of the trailer, though, I expect this movie is going to be anything but serene.
So what should you expect when you enter the theater? As a play, Into the Woods clocks in at about three and a half hours, and if Rob Marshall is being true to the story, the movie will be about that length – although it might be a little shorter since it won’t have an intermission. However, judging by the trailer, the movie looks well-made and should be enjoyable for the whole runtime, whatever it turns out to be. Just make sure you plan your bathroom breaks accordingly.