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Into the Woods’ problems only start with Depp’s take on the Big Bad Wolf

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When Disney announced plans to create a film version of the beloved musical “Into the Woods,” the internet was abuzz with rumors about what songs they’d be leaving in, which ones would get cut and whether or not there would be an all new song for Meryl Streep to sing as the Witch.

While the original song was cut, fans were excited to see how incredible this story could be told with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars involved.

But, sadly, for whatever reason, the star-power doesn’t add much to the film.

Sure, Meryl Streep gives a strong performance as the Witch, both thematically and vocally, and Anna Kendrick is a decent Cinderella, although perhaps a bit too safe with the source material. Emily Blunt steals the show as the Baker’s Wife and Chris Pine doesn’t do much to screw up Cinderella’s Prince.

But the travesty that is Johnny Depp in his role as the Big Bad Wolf almost negates any of the good aspects that the other big stars bring to the movie.

So, before we continue, let’s talk about the many problems with the Big Bad Wolf, which if you’re looking to place any blame, you must place an equal amount on  Depp and director Rob Marshall.

Firstly, if they didn’t identify Depp as being a wolf, you wouldn’t have hardly any idea that’s what he was supposed to be. He looked more like Johnny Depp dressed as a scuzzy creep and less like a menacing creature that’s meant to strike fear into Little Red Riding Hood.

Secondly, Depp hardly sings throughout “Hello Little Girl.” The decision to drop it into a key that better fit Depp’s vocal range, didn’t help things much for him.

Even worse, Disney was fully aware that Depp’s performance would seem overtly sexualized and that it would tip-toe the line of having him portraying a paedophile. And yet, they were OK with how it ended up. Really makes you wonder what they were thinking.

The main issue is that Depp didn’t look like a wolf much at all. Had he transformed more into a wolf before he began singing the song, viewers would have had a much harder time interpreting the performance as that of an actual wolf and not a sex offender.

Johnny Depp is still a talented actor who, in the right circumstance, can take a film and carry it on his shoulders. Even if he didn’t take the role into such a creepy place, this wouldn’t have been that role for him.

And really Depp’s take on the wolf is starkly contrasted with that of the Baker’s Wife, played by beautiful Emily Blunt. She plays a real person better than any of the other characters. She may even be considered the main protagonist. If you’re like me you’ll find yourself rooting for her more than anyone else.

Emily Blunt and James Corden star in Disney's film interpretation of "Into The Woods."
Emily Blunt and James Corden star in Disney’s film interpretation of “Into The Woods.”

And, as such, I was excited to see her on camera in almost every scene, probably more so than even Streep.

Who, is always quite good, but, well, didn’t have quite the impact on the role that I was hoping for. She did a great job at shifting the tone of her voice between when she was an elderly witch and when she becomes a younger one, but, it just seemed too glossed over, her final scene in particular came across as too produced.

If you’re not aware, briefly, the story of “Into the Woods” involves the Baker, played by the underrated James Corden, and the Baker’s Wife seeking items to take to the Witch, who placed a curse on their family because the Baker’s father was caught many years ago stealing items from her garden.

They must find a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and the slipper pure as gold, items which belong to the other fairy tale characters Rapunzel, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk.

Until they collect these items, the two cannot bear a child.

Cinderella’s prince, played by Chris Pine, and Rapunzel’s prince, played by Billy Magnussen, also play important parts in the story, as well. Their moment to shine comes in the tongue-in-cheek song “Agony,” which both actors do well enough. Pine comes across a bit too much of a beefcake to me, and he’ll likely remind you of one of the stereotypical hunks you see on the grocery-store aisle romance novels.

But, going back to the story, overall in this version it doesn’t really get all that interesting until after all of the items are fetched and we start to see the characters come to life beyond their expected roles. Once everyone seemingly gets what they want is when I finally felt like I was watching something that wasn’t following what one might expect.

Without spoiling it if you haven’t seen the story, I’ll just say that the tone shifts dramatically in the second act and you’ll be thankful that it came.

But, the shift in tone isn’t enough to save this film. The stage version is better, bar none. And, maybe that’s OK. Maybe the movie version doesn’t need to be better.

While admittedly I haven’t seen the entire stage production, I have watched multiple versions of some of the best moments online.

“Agony” comes across as funnier, and the story is well, more complete. A big criticism going in was that Disney originally made the decision to cut “Any Moment” because it implies that the Baker’s Wife cheats on her husband. Then, the song was put back in following the immediate outrage. However, one major switch from the stage version is that Rapunzel does not meet her untimely death.

It was kind of nice to see that they kept in one of the darker moments when Cinderella’s sisters get their come-uppance in the form of having their eyes pecked out by Cinderella’s birds.

But, true fans of the musical are likely still a bit peeved that they made the decision to cut  the songs “I Guess This Is Goodbye”, “Maybe They’re Magic”, “Our Little World”, “First Midnight”, “Second Midnight”, “Ever After” “So Happy”, “Into the Woods” Reprise, “Agony” Reprise and “No More” to save time. 

Many people tend to find that “Agony”‘s reprise is much funnier than the original song, so it’s a shame that it had to be cut, in particular.

Mackenzie Mauzy porrays Rapunzel in "Into the Woods." This version is altered from the original in that she does not die in the end.
Mackenzie Mauzy portrays Rapunzel in “Into the Woods.” This version is altered from the original in that she does not die in the end.

No matter how many stars, how big your budget is, and how much you wish to respect the stage version of any big musical, it is very, very difficult to replicate. And, one of the reasons for that is a musical is, in general, being performed for the audience in front of you. The way you adjust your voice, the way you move, the way your costumes are designed, are all created for the benefit of the audience.

A film, meanwhile, only has the cameras to think about. Which, in general, changes how the story is told. Sometimes, the changes are welcome, but most of the time, they’re not because it’s never quite the same performance, especially if your first exposure to a story is from the stage version.

The question then becomes, will we ever see a movie that does a story head-and-shoulders above the stage version? What will it be? Or, do you think there’s already one that’s been done before? Leave a comment if you were to take a guess as to which film adaptation of a musical you’d guess to be better than the stage version, or if it’s a crazy idea to even consider that a possibility, or if, as I said above, it’s been done already.

 

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