Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #48. Into the Woods (2014)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details. Visit the Johnny Kitties page for a full list of Johnny Depp's filmography and links to all previous Johnny Kitties blog posts.]

Happy birthday, Johnny!

Johnny on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in early 2015
Here's the latest Johnny Kitties tribute....

The one thing I love about this film is there's so much entertainment. It's so much fun – the joy, the ride of it. – Director Rob Marshall

It's so far beyond anything you could have expected because it is. You know all these characters from your youth in a deep way, but when they come to life in this sense, you get to know more about them, and it's even spookier and it's even funnier and it's even weirder. It's a brilliant idea. It's beautifully put together. – Johnny Depp

Go to the Woods!
In this film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's musical, the fairytale characters that we all know and love come to life and coincide in a new adventure. Cursed by the Witch (Meryl Streep) to remain childless, the Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt) head into the woods to break her spell by finding four requested items in three days' time: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold. On their journey, they find an indecisive Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), contemplating the prince (Chris Pine) she's met at the ball; Jack (Daniel Huddlestone), to whom they give some magic beans; and Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), who runs into trouble with the sly Wolf (Johnny Depp) on the way to her grandmother's house. The Witch, too, has her own set of problems, including trying to keep her restless daughter Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) safely hidden away in a lonely tower. Directed by Rob Marshall, Into the Woods takes you on a high-spirited, entertaining ride that turns these familiar stories into something modern, fresh, and more relatively realistic. It turns out that happily ever after isn't always how things end. 

If at first you don't succeed...
I first saw Into the Woods in Ohio with my parents just after Christmas. It was my dad's idea, but soon after the lights went out, he fell asleep. My mom stayed awake but her first comment after the movie ended was, "That was a little long." I admit, I felt that was true. But maybe it only seemed long because the screen was small and far away from where we sat; everyone around us in this packed little space had noisy colds, kept fidgeting, and walking in and out of the theater; and dad was snoring. It wasn't the best experience, especially when Johnny showed up 20 minutes into the movie and was finished about 5 minutes later. 

I waited until Into the Woods came out on DVD to see it again in my apartment, where I gave it my full, undivided attention. That's when I discovered that this movie is actually a really good one.  

What's to Love?
Stephen Sondheim with cast members at the
Into the Woods world premiere in December 2014
The music. I was unfamiliar with Into the Woods before I saw this movie, even though it debuted on Broadway in 1987 and has been popular ever since. While I knew it was a musical, I was still surprised by the amount of singing involved. Everyone sings, and they sing together seamlessly, even when they're their scenes take them to different locations to focus on their own life stories and problems. Sixty musicians recorded the songs in a studio with the cast; the recordings were then blasted on set during the scenes while the cast belted the songs out again, singing along to the recorded versions. The extra layer of coolness here is that what they sang on set while filming was also recorded and, for the final product, both versions were mixed together to make the singing match best with whatever is happening in the scene. "When we need the [studio] recordings, we have them; and when it's live and working, we use that as well," producer Marc Platt explains. "What you get is a seamless marriage of the two, but you get performances that are so brilliant." 

These impressive songs are unmistakably Stephen Sondheim's with their fast-paced, clever lyrics and challenging melodies. I loved how they moved the stories along; you really had to listen for that reason. "It's a very lyric-heavy piece, and in those lyrics is the story," Rob Marshall explains. "That's how Stephen Sondheim wrote it. That's how he writes. He writes as if it's a scene. Everything's a scene; it's not a number." Producer John De Luca concurs, "There's relentless intelligence in Stephen Sondheim. The lyrics – every time you listen, you hear something new." 

The direction. Rob Marshall is good at directing musicals, and this one doesn't disappoint. "He's very true to his vision of the author's work. His approach is very pure, and he's out there to make something beautiful, affecting, artistic, emotional," Johnny says. Here, he creates a world and puts you in it. The camera takes you into to the action, like when it follows the jerky movements of the Wolf spying on Little Red Riding Hood through the bushes. It sweeps you along with the music, moving like a dancer to Stephen Sondheim's orchestrations. 

The movie isn't so long as it is packed with stories. At times when story lines conclude, others begin, which left me wondering how this thing was going to end. Yet, from start to finish, you're never bored because Rob Marshall keeps all the pieces moving in an environment that becomes its own key character. "How the woods sounds and feels, the sonic texture of it, was a vital ingredient in bringing the world alive and making it feel vibrant and specific to the story being told at the time," Marc Platt explains. These woods may be intimidating, but plenty goes on in there to keep us well entertained. 

The cast. This all-star cast is impressive. Meryl Streep earned her 19th Oscar nomination for playing the Witch in this movie and it's clear why: she's the best witch out there. In this movie, everyone shines. I particularly liked James Corden and Emily Blunt as a desperate yet determined couple on a mission. Newcomer Lilla Crawford was also fantastic as Little Red Riding Hood. 

It must have been difficult for cast members to take such popular characters and make them modern and uniquely their own, but each is fully realized with gusto. "It's visually fun and emotionally satisfying," Meryl Streep says of the film. "But it also has this other thing that is what engages us as artists and makes us want to bring everything we can to it." They all definitely bring it, but no one stands out and above the rest in my eyes (well, Meryl Streep and Johnny aside). As Rob Marshall says, "It's all about the piece and all about the ensemble – everybody working together to create this magic." 

The Wolf. While short, Johnny's performance as the Wolf is a memorable one. He sings one song, "Hello, Little Girl," while sneakily eyeing his unassuming prey. Who knew Johnny would ever sing another song on film after Sweeney Todd? "I was very excited to do it," Johnny says of the role. "I was honored and somewhat proud that not only Rob [Marshall] and John [De Luca] wanted me to play the Wolf, but Sondheim again believed in me to play the part and to sing his notes. It's one of those moments that you realize you will never in  your life have an opportunity like that again, as an actor or as a musician; it's kind of a joy to approach, even though it's incredibly daunting." 

Before the movie came out, I saw Johnny's costume and immediately thought of the Big Bad Wolf character in the classic Tex Avery cartoons I grew up watching, like this one. It turns out that that's what Johnny was going for: a cool '50s-style wolf in a zoot suit, who could be seen more as a villain than the literal animal. "The idea with the Wolf is that he is the Wolf of Little Red Riding Hood's imagination, so we didn't want to put Johnny in a wolf suit or give him a fur collar," costume designer Colleen Atwood explains. I can really see that cartoon inspiration in Johnny's appearance and performance. He brought that Big Bad Wolf to life, and I love it!

Watch out, Kitties!
Here's Johnny's key scene, becoming acquainted with his next meal (Mini). 

48. Into the Woods (2014) [May 16, 2015]

It's too bad that I couldn't fit my favorite part of this scene in here, when the Wolf sneaks some quick sniffs of the goodies in Red Riding Hood's basket while her gaze is turned, but these lyrics take up a lot of room. Stephen Sondheim's wordy, but in the best way. These lyrics are killer. 

What's next? 
One of my dreams came true when Ewan McGregor signed on to costar with Johnny in Mortdecai. We'll celebrate this dreamy pairing, among other things, next month on July 9th!

Photo credits: All film images © Disney Pictures; photo of Johnny Depp © ABC; cast photo © Kevin Mazur/WireImages.  

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