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Wednesday
Jan292014

We Can't Wait #6: Into the Woods

[Editor's Note: We Can't Wait is a Team Experience series, in which we highlight our top 14 most anticipated films of 2014. Here's abstew on" Into the Woods"]

Into the Woods
Director Rob Marshall tries his (jazz) hand at another movie musical based on the popular Broadway show. The film centers around a Baker and his Wife who have been cursed by a Witch to remain childless. To break the spell, the couple must go "into the woods" to bring back certain objects. Along the way, they encounter classic characters from fairy tales including Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Jack (he of the famed Beanstalk).

Cast & Crew
The sprawling cast is a mix of movie stars (Emily Blunt as the Baker's Wife, Meryl Streep as the Witch, Chris Pine as Cinderella's Prince, and Johnny Depp as The Big Bad Wolf), Broadway performers (Tony winner James Corden as the Baker, Lilla Crawford, from Broadway's latest revival of Annie, as Little Red, Tony nominee Billy Magnussen as Rapunzel's Prince), and talented individuals at home in any medium (Christine Baranski as Cinderella's Stepmother, Tracy Ullman as Jack's Mother, and 2014's "It" movie musical star, Oscar and Tony nominee, Anna Kendrick as Cinderella). [more...]

Why We Can't Wait
Once upon a time...there was a legendary musical composer named Stephen Sondheim who brought an original musical based on stories from fairy tales to the Broadway stage in 1987. The musical was a critical and commercial success (it went on to score 10 Tony Nominations and 3 wins, including Best Original Score, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Leading Actress in a Musical for Joanna Gleason as the Baker's Wife. It did, however lose Best Musical to that 80's super-musical, The Phantom of the Opera). Hollywood soon came calling wanting to make a film version. After several attempts by other studios (including one in the 90's that would have starred Robin Williams, Goldie Hawn, and Cher), Walt Disney Pictures successfully brought the Oscar-nominated director of Chicago on-board to finally bring Sondheim's musical to the big screen. 

In October 2012, Marshall had a read/sing-through of the script from Original Book Writer James Lapine (who streamlined the three hour stage version down to only two) that mainly consisted of Broadway performers (including Nina Arianda as the Baker's Wife, Donna Murphy as the Witch, Cheyenne Jackson as Rapunzel's Prince, and Megan Hilty as one of Cinderella's Stepsisters). Although, none of those particular stars made it to the final casting of the film (Corden, Kendrick, and Baranski did make the transfer), it was proof that production was being set in motion.

Once big names began signing on, each casting choice was closely scrutinized by the media. Jake Gyllenhaal had originally been cast as Rapunzel's Prince, but had to drop out when filming of Nightcrawler conflicted. But, the biggest controversy (and the questioning of just how much the film would differ in tone from the musical) centered on the casting of internet child-sensation Sophia Grace Brownlee as Little Red Riding Hood. In the musical, her encounter with the Wolf is very much a sexual awakening and it seemed inappropriate to cast a girl not even 10 years old. The part was soon re-cast with the (slightly) older and more seasoned professional actor Lilla Crawford ("Annie" on Broadway). But the biggest question mark remains the casting of Emily Blunt as the Baker's Wife. She previously sang in her Golden Globe winning performance in Gideon's Daughter, but isn't the first person that comes to mind when casting a musical. Especially when Amy Adams just played the part on stage in Central Park a few summers ago.

With Marshall at the helm we're hoping the film will be met with more Chicago-sized enthusiasm rather than Nine-like critical disdain. (Just promise the musical numbers aren't staged as dream sequences, please.) With a new song written by Sondheim for Meryl Streep (to secure that Best Original Song Oscar, naturally), and an intriguing cast, let's hope the journey from stage to screen is one that's happy ever after! (I Wish!)

But We Do Have to Wait
Disney is hoping to cash in on the family-friendly, holiday season (and hopefully follow in the Oscar-winning footsteps of the last movie musical to open on this date), releasing the film on Christmas Day.

Meryl Streep as "The Witch"

Previously on "We Can't Wait"
07 Snowpiercer
08 Nymphomaniac
09 Boyhood,
10 Big Eyes,
11 The Last 5 Years,
12 Gone Girl 
13 Can a Song Save Your Life 
14 Veronica Mars 
runners up  just missed the cut

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Reader Comments (43)

Wasn't really interested in this until I saw that image of Meryl Streep. Okay, I'm in.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterThe Infamous

I'm too nervous about this to be truly excited. There are far too many ways for this to go wrong, and the casting decisions have all struck me as alternately miscast or boring.

I know I SHOULD be excited, but I'm just not. Here's hoping the trailer eases (most of) my fears and restores some faith.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Are these ranked in order cause if this is #6 what on earth could be ahead of it ;) DYING to see this. The only other film I have ahead of it is Boyhood.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRami

I am walking a tightrope of emotions about this movie. Scared that they will botch it! Thrilled that they are finally getting it to the big screen! Terror and enthusiasm never so close in my mind and heart.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoey

Rami -- collective order. so this is everyone who voted... it's the 6th most awaited from those. but 5 more pictures to come.

January 29, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

holy cow.....could someone else get a chance besides Meryl Streep??? Yawn.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjimmy

Wait a minute! Are you telling me there was a version of Into The Woods with Donna Murphy as the Witch?? Don't get me wrong, I love la Streep, but that sounds AMAZING.

As for the movie, I keep vacillating between being really excited and really, really nervous.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Marie

I'm loving this series, thanks TFE folks!

In a soundbite from Sundance, Anna Kendrick said Meryl's version of Last Midnight was amazing. I'm going to see her (Streep) at an event next week so hope she'll talk a bit about this one.

Very excited to see the adorable Billy Magnussen on the big screen since I fell in crush with him at last year's Vanya, Sonya, Masha, and Spike.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPam

I previously stabbed on Boyhood that Guardians of the Galaxy probably isn't on the list. Now I'm even more sure. Still hope I'm wrong on that, because of how risky a choice this feels on their part.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I'm excited and scared.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCharles

So excited about this movie. The script is written by the same writer who wrote the original and Stephen Sondheim himself worked on it so what's to be scared about? Rob Marshall isn't a stranger to this kind of movies is he?

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKoka

Charles - i see what you did there.

Koka -- because Sondheim, however brilliant he is at songwriting, has next to no understanding of what makes a good movie. I mean he's the one who has signed on to all these weird decisions about his material (removing the ballad of sweeney todd from sweeney todd? wth? casting people who can't sing?) I think i'm less scared than a lot ofpeople though because I didn't think Nine was the disaster others thought it was. Disposable sure... but Marshall's insistence on a gimmick to make song and dance movies is weirdly lacking in confidence... especially for someone who is so tied to musicals. I hope he gets confident this time.

Anne Marie -- donna murphy played the witch in the shakespeare in the park thing recently (with amy adams as the baker's wife) she was awesome.

Pam -- wasn't Magnussen so great in that? i loved that play.

January 29, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

This would really grab me if we could have Jessica Lange as The Witch, Albert Finney as the Big Bad Wolf, and Marsha Mason as Cinderella's Stepmother. Ah, what glory there could have been ...

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

@NATHANIEL R Well I loved Sweeney Todd and thought that Depp and Carter were amazing and it was also a critically acclamied movie so i dunno..

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKoka

I hope they don't remove the narrator and the fourth wall breaking just to streamline the movie. After Sweeny Todd I'm quite sceptical of Sondheim musicals being adapted. Though would love a Joe Wright or Julie Taymor directed Follies.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMustafa

This will be another nomination for Meryl, and who knows, maybe her 4th Oscar. The Musicals of Marshall always have strong supporting actress, i think Meryl have a chance.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMauricio V.

My one big worry here....Chris Pine?

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBrianZ

Why does no one let auteurs make film musicals? Is it that none of them want to, or are the studios lazy and lacking in imagination with respect to their choices? A dozen years after "Chicago" and Marshall's success seems more and more like a fluke than anything else, yet he keeps being gifted all of this great material.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTroy H.

Troy H: The reason why auteur's are never/hardly ever discussed or compete for the job of directing an adapted musical is...complicated. I'd boil it down to three basic reasons:

1. An association with light, substanceless and morally un-self aware fare, most spectacularly exemplified through Gigli, that has more morally aware and intelligent directors (what we would, typically, call "auteurs") turned away from it. (50-60% of total directors turned away.)
2. Getting beholden to a larger budget, whether or not they're ready for the demands that such a budget would place on them and, if it didn't water down your vision, the question whether the public even wants your unfettered vision of what a musical can be. (For the latter event, see: At Long Last Love.) (10-20% of total directors turned away.)
3. A disinterest in "sung" performances. Even if you manage to overcome your distaste with the stereotype of the fare being light and substanceless and concerns over your vision either getting watered down or viewed as distasteful by critics, audiences or both, I don't know how many auteurs have an idea of what a good-great "sung" performance is. (15-35% of total directors turned away.) (75-95% of total directors, depending on how much each problem turns away.)

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I'm very nervous about this. It's a favorite musical of mine, but I'm worried that some of the actors are not up to the singing required. Can Chris Pine carry a tune? The fact that they cast cute kids for Litte Red and Jack is troubling. Has the show been de-fanged for Disney? I'm crossing my fingers that it turns out to be better than I'm fearing. I would have much preferred the cast they used for the reading, but of course Donna Murphy is not a household name.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

I think we should have musicals originally made for movies. Broadway has a very larger than life tone that doesn't always translate well to the screen. The best musicals of this century (Love Songs, Moulin Rouge, Dancer in the Dark) are all originals. The best musical ever (Singin in the Rain), too.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Chris Pine was on some late night TV show recently and he sang something and he sounded really good so I'm not so worried about his casting anymore. I'm more worried about what is getting cut from the musical. In the stage musical there a narrator who I have a feeling has been removed from the movie. I am excited about the movie because for the most part I like the cast. I'm hoping for the best, but bracing for the worst.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

I did not realize Joanna Gleason is married to Chris Sarandon, star of that *other* classic alt-fairy tale from '87, The Princess Bride. Mind. Blown.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

P.S. Given Broadway's current obsession with film-to-stage adaptations, how weird is it that The Princess Bride has yet to transfer? Hmm...

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Mareko: I think that's easier to answer than why auteur's don't touch film musicals, anyway. When The Princess Bride really gets going, assuming the film to stage adaptation is a musical, a lot of it's dialogue (which is hallowed and perfect and no one would DARE change any of it in adaptation) relies on sheer stacatto, meaning it'd be a lot of VERY similar sounding songs over and over.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I consider Minnelli an auteur, so musicals can be done this way. But it takes the right kind of artist, not somebody who's prone to disrespect the material but also not be afraid to turn it cinematic.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I am not too concerned with anyone's singing ability. You need to be able to act your way through a song--especially Sondheim--so the song doesn't sing you.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoey

Part of the fun of seeing different stage versions of a great musical is the differences and the new things and changes of tone, insight, etc.

What I'd love to see as a filmed Into The Woods is a 6 to 9 hour version that told the story 3 times with a different director, cast, and emphasis. And yes, I'd like to see Donna Murphy and Audra McDonald play the witch in 2 of those versions. I'd also be keen to have one of those versions have really good choreography.

Fantasy, obviously, but perfect for the target audience. With new ways of viewing film, for a less famous musical work, it could be possible.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Let's just be glad Carrie Underwood is sitting this one out.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

brookesboy - ha! thank god for small miracles. i'm just waiting to hear who they cast for peter pan for this dec's telecast.

as much as I would love to see donna murphy in the film, a part of me is really annoyed that we didn't get that early 90's version with cher as the witch. now THAT would have been something to see. you know, it's not too late to cast her as peter pan...

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterabstew

My question is whether Meryl will be considered/campaigned Lead or Supporting? I don't know ITW but presumably she'll be lead.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterChrisD

Volvagia: Gigli or Gigi? (Having never seen the former, I don't know if it's a musical...)

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Paul Outlaw I meant Gigi. Slip of the mind.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

for those interested in what's in/what's out - the shooing script is floating around on the interweb

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterpar

@Pam

I think we're going to the same Streep event next week. I am really looking forward to that.

January 29, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

Into The Woods is one of my all-time favorites but Rob Marshall is such a disappointment for me so I've already resigned to the fact that this is gonna be a big let-down for me in end. Which is fine because if I accept that now, I won't be so broken up by the time the end credits roll and anything good or exciting that comes before that will just be a nice surprise. Win-win.

And I agree that other seasoned directors should be allowed to direct musicals. Terence Davies, off the top of my head, would make a sublime director for musicals. Studios are just scared of putting that much money behind someone who hasn't the credentials of proven success (however fluky, in Marshall's case) and especially for a musical, of all things. I honestly cannot think of a shakier investment for a studio to make and how that would scare the holy shit out of them.

January 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

I've also resigned myself to this being tepid at best. The cast is fine, its Marshall I don't trust.

January 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

mark the first -- except that it's a myth that musicals are this terrible risky investment. They're no more risky than most genres. (there's only one genre that's a "safe' investment and that's horror since they can usually always make their money back)

there have been quite a few musical successes this past 12 years and yet people still act like cases like Nine (huge budget, miniscule returns) are the norm. They aren't.

abstew -- cher as the witch?I i know. that woulda been interesting

January 30, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

joey -- except that even if you're talk singing there's a certain skill to it that not everyone has. once i did an experiment and i played jonny depp and michael cerveris back to back on sweeney todd and i nearly started crying from the differences in nuance and depth and melody inherent in Cerveris voice that Depp was just this nothing compared to -- even in a non-traditional song that you'd think you could just "act" trhough (lI think it was ''My Friends')

January 30, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

NATHANIEL - Oh, I know, I just mean from a studio exec who's white, straight, male and in position of power ... any kind of investment that doesn't seem like a slam dunk is considered risky but for something as old-fashioned as a big budget musical? They'd sooner product a female-led drama before going there. It's just something they're so scared of, despite what the successes have shown. And let's be real, most of the them don't know many musicals, much less good ones. They have such an idea in their head of ALL SINGING ALL DANCING ALL THE TIME silliness that it's so hard to overturn unless someone really believes in something, which is so damn rare.

January 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMark The First

Well, I'll be imature and just say "ewwwwwwww" to this choice.

January 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAgent69

Haven't seen the whole show but I like many songs in it a lot and I'm looking forward to it.

January 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

I honestly can't wait for this, I really like the cast: Kendrick, Christine Baranski, Tracey Ullman, Blunt, basically everyone, and of course mostly Meryl, I really think she is gonna nail this and hopefully people will see a different range of her voice in this one, I've heard her singing in old recordings and stuff and she really has a great voice so I have no concerns there, and as much as people like to bitch about her getting all the roles, this is one I'm really glad SHE is the one doing it, that woman knows how to handle her career to stay current and popular, you can't deny that... all in all, I have faith in the cast and the story so hopefully this will be a success.

Btw, I'm really curious about the new song Sondheim wrote for Streep, guess I'll have to wait till December to know if it was a good addition.

January 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJakeL

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