Into the Woods is a star studded film that's based on Stephen Sondheim's musical of the same name. The story is a mash up of several famous fairy tales, including Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk, all woven together by a meta-story about a childless baker and his wife who need to collect a hood, a magic shoe, some hair the color of straw and an all-white cow before the curse that is keeping them from conceiving can be lifted. Meryl Streep headlines the cast as a witch who bedevils the baker, but Johnny Depp, Emily Blunt and Anna Kendrick also star, and for the most part they all acquit themselves well to their roles. (Johnny Depp is probably miscast as the Big Bad Wolf, but his character is only involved with one of the five main stories briefly, so it isn't the end of the world.)
Now, if I was going to write a full length review of Into the Woods there's a lot I could talk about. For one, I'm interested in the way that this movie is trying walking a very specific line between cynicism and sweetness, since the purpose of the original source material was to point out how unrealistic the idea of "happily ever after" is, but the film version is a Disney produced PG-13 film that's trying to be family friendly. Into the Woods doesn't always walk that line perfectly - to be honest with you, the film is a bit of a tonal trainwreck, with some of it's four or five stories working better than others - but regardless, I still find any work of art that tries to balance the classic conceptions of these fairy tales against our postmodern need for irony to be compelling. It seems like our culture is obsessed with telling and re-telling these fables, but we can't quite decide if our obsession stems from their inherent darkness or their potential for sweetness, and I think that conflict says something about our society's current headspace.
There's also a very specific moral in this movie that I would love to unpack. Towards the end of the movie there is a scene where most of the main characters start squabbling amongst themselves about who is to blame for a mess that they are all involved in. (I would be less vague but I'm trying to avoid spoilers.) Anyway, this argument prompts the fed up witch to sings a song that informs the group that they are all to blame because every single one of them has done dumb things for selfish reasons. Her basic point is that there is a difference between being nice and being good, and the fact that most of them meant well doesn't mean that they can't be held liable for their actions. I could really expound on that idea at length, because I think it has a lot of implications for a lot of people that I know - particularly the people I know who think that they should be able to get away with all manner of self-involved shenanigans as long as they are still fun to hang around with.
However, I don't really have the energy expound on any of these topics at great length today. I don't want to spend too much time writing about the movie itself because it was fine but it didn't really grab me; I'm sure it's a good musical but musicals aren't really my thing. I also can't muster up a bunch of energy to write a thinkpiece about what fairy tales say about us as a society because I'm well aware that piece has already been written and rewritten enough by other writers. And I don't want to write a long moralistic essay that puts my friends on blast because while that might be interesting it would also be passive aggressive.
And besides, why should I write these abstract articles when I know someone who has a more concrete perspective that they could share? As you are about to see the Cat did extensive work on this film, and I think her memories of life on the set are a lot more interesting than anything I would ever write. So without further ado I'm going to turn this over to her:
Ah, yes, the swamp scene! You know, I’m not one of those prima donnas who says stuff like “you’ve got to photograph me from the right because it’s my good side.” I’m a cat so I'm kind of a vain pain in the ass but I'm not THAT kind of vain pain in the ass. Still I was a little annoyed when I saw that the set was lit almost entirely with blue lights. My coat is grey and black, it’s not gonna look good in blue! I mean, I get that they want the set to look “moody” but they should also want me to look like a star, not a monster that lives under your bed. (Although I must admit that I do like sleeping under beds. It’s a good hiding spot - real private, and the shag carpeting is decently comfy.) Anyway, before I could kick up too much of a fuss they distracted me with a laser pointer. But now that I see the end product I kind of wish I’d had more focus and held my ground. Quite frankly, my cute pink nose just doesn’t pop under these conditions.
Ah, yeah, that was the day I worked with Johnny. Nice guy, very interesting smell. At first I thought he smelled the way he did because he had gone full method for his part as the Big Bad Wolf and rolled around in something dead like a dog would, but it turned out that no, he just smelled that way naturally. I’m not sure, but he might have spent the night sleeping in the swamp set? I can’t point fingers – both because I don’t have fingers and because I also slept in some of those fake trees in between takes... But I should point out that I slept there on purpose, not because I was still living the Keith Richards lifestyle. Still, he knew all of his lines and choreography and was a total pro when he was awake. I would totally work with him again. Maybe not on a Pirates movie - too watery for my tastes - but other than that, if he called me I'd come running. And that's really saying something, cause cats don't generally do that.
This scene was actually one of the first scenes I shot. It was the first time I’d ever worked with Meryl, of course. I wasn’t particularly nervous. I’m a cat, we don’t give a shit, you know? But I did end up putting my foot in my mouth almost immediately after we met. Literally, in that I started chewing on my foot pad when she was introducing herself to the cast and crew, but also I made an ass out of myself when it was my turn to meet her. I was trying to think of an icebreaker, and then I remembered, oh yeah, she was in that movie where a dingo ate her baby, so I figured that we had something in common, because I also eat babies – not human ones, of course, those are too big, but you know, baby mice and baby birds and one time even a baby rat. So I mentioned that, and she looked at me like I was insane. I was kind of embarrassed, but I played it off real cool like, trying to act like “yeah, I meant to do that.” Anyway, I got back at her later by pooping in one of her shoes and blaming it on Anna Kendrick.