Archive | December, 2014

“Into the Woods” Review – the Music of Sondheim, the body count of “Les Mis”

29 Dec

As an avowed lover of musical theatre, I wanted to love the film adaptation of Into the Woods. I convinced my dad to go with me for the promise of giants destroying a set, a sly wolf full of sexual innuendo, and the macabre humor associated with the brilliant Stephen Sondheim and lyricist James Lapine. Plus, with Rob Marshall at the helm (I adore the Oscar-winning film adaptation of Chicago), I entered the theater with confidence that I’d made the right decision.

I left feeling profoundly “meh.”

And he can sing? Perfect.

First, the bright spots: Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen were brilliant, and “Agony” was staged beautifully. Everyone in the theater laughed as Pine dramatically tore his shirt in (well) agony.

Anna Kendrick and Emily Blunt did well. Kendrick’s “On the Steps of the Palace” was a true show-stopper. However, the real star was Meryl Streep James Corden. Corden’s Baker had warmth, humor, and depth, which was a feat given the changes made to the Baker’s plot (as I’ll address later).

And then it crumbles. People normally fall into two camps when it comes to disliking this movie: 1) people who just don’t like Sondheim/don’t understand the music or 2) people who fell in love with the original show and are upset with the changes.

To the first group, do your research on his music. No, he’s not known for having a lot of “hummable,” Alan Menken-esque tunes you’ll be shower-singing for years to come. He writes for actors, and though his most popular songs can be challenging (like trying to figure out when to breathe in “Lament”), he wants to emphasize emotion over technical precision.

Also, he’s not safe for children. Even his lone-wolf comedy, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” is fraught with innuendo and outuendo. Sondheim’s “Assassins” gives voice to the attempted and successful assassinations of US Presidents throughout history, all told from the perspective of the killers. Woods is filled with adult themes, but most of it gets lost thanks to unexpected sanitation. Johnny Depp’s Wolf gets this gutting the most, a travesty for what is supposed to be a despicably perverted character. Maybe it’s paired with the fact that he’s supposed to sing opposite an adult Red Riding Hood, not Lilla Crawford’s spunky childlike demeanor. To make matters worse, Red Riding Hood was supposed to be played by Sophia Grace (the one of Ellen fame); thankfully, she left production a week in, and Crawford was cast. This leaves Depp’s Wolf to simply comes across as creepy, no stretch for the man who made his career off of just that.

To the second group, I feel your pain. **Spoilers ahead, so if you’ve seen the movie/musical, forge onward** Rob Marshall, SHAME ON YOU. You took out the most important piece of the puzzle: The Narrator. Sure, we still have a narrator (also James Corden), but we don’t have THE Narrator. Marshall successfully took the teeth right out of Sondheim’s most moving musical moment for the sake of what? Maintaining a PG rating? I was furious when the Narrator wasn’t revealed to be the Baker’s father who, fraught with guilt and tired of watching the characters suffer for his sins, convinces the Baker to take hold of his responsibilities (“No More”). “Into the Woods” is all about understanding that giants, princes and witches keep coming even after we find a happy ending. The Narrator lives with that knowledge longer than anyone in the show, and by ignoring his connection to the Baker, Marshall removes an important twist to the plot, and thus its morals.

Also, the point proved with both princes is that they never changed. In “Agony (Reprise),” the two reconvene to pursue other women who audiences find out are Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Why change Rapunzel’s fate? While it’s minor, it still removes another opportunity for Pine and Magnussen to showcase their humor and deepen the heart of the movie.

Final verdict: If you’ve never seen “Into the Woods” and you enjoy musical theater, go see this movie. You will probably enjoy it. However, avoid it if you have small children because a) everything will go right over their heads and b) it’s downright sinister at times.

My biggest fear is that Marshall is creating a new set of viewers who will undoubtedly say “I like the movie so much more than the show” after seeing the movie first. It’s like those crazy people who don’t read a book before its movie adaptation. To those people (because I’m sure by now you exist somewhere), realize you’re loving the shadow of a show that held its own against “The Phantom of the Opera” at the 1988 Tony Awards. Shadows don’t satisfy. Man up, take the plunge, and go watch any staged version you want.

Did you love Into the Woods? Did you hate it? Sound off in the comments below! Bonus points for whoever identifies the “Wicked” reference made!

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Disney Christmas Parade Review – A “Frozen” disaster?

25 Dec

Let me preface this by saying I really REALLY love Frozen (as the Elsa costume hanging in my closet might indicate).

Naturally, when I heard Disney’s yearly Christmas parade would be Frozen-themed, I squeed with delight while bracing for a barrage of whines from nay-sayers and purists who lament the snowball of millions of dollars padding Disney’s pockets. And so, as I sat in front of the TV, I was so excited to see a twist to the classic Disney parade.

That’s not what I got. At all.

After two hours of garbled Ariana Grande juxtaposed with touching reunion blips, the “parade” left me thinking, “What happened?”

Sure, it’s great to see Disney showing off their newer properties. Lucy Hale’s “country-fied” performance fit detail shots of Radiator Springs nicely. Aulani looks STUNNING; not even Disney Channel starlet Laura Marano could ruin the views. (A huge missed opportunity, however, was Samantha Brown’s segments of new and exciting things from the Company. Adventures by Disney could have been showcased extensively in a two-minute segment, but it was reduced to a 30-second commercial.)

However, sparkly close-up shots couldn’t fill the gaping hole in my heart from the lack of Main Street footage. What parade? The “celebration” was an amalgam of performances loosely pieced together with awkward segues (looking at you, Tim Tebow), a handful of floats, and *maybe* a glimpse of a character whose name isn’t Anna, Elsa, or Olaf. Plus, anyone who’s ever been to Magic Kingdom will notice Festival of Fantasy and MISICI floats were poorly converted to Christmas-themed pieces. Clearly, a majority of the budget when to Anna and Elsa’s floats and those 1997-era special effects at the end.

Seriously, guys, Santa is the big reveal at the end.

Why change an excellent structure for one film? It makes no sense to piece together these featurettes with Frozen when it cannot be duplicated another year. Producers could’ve just as easily added Anna and Elsa’s float into the usual parade route, kept the performances (maybe cut Trisha Yearwood’s songs to two instead of three?), and done the traditional commentary from the Main Street hub.

Dancers in Anaheim’s Disneyland Christmas parade. Can we have a bit more of this please?

We get it. Frozen was the biggest box office hit for an animated film ever. It won an Oscar it rightfully deserved. Every parent of a 5-year-old kid has a video of them belting “Let it Go.” Again, WE GET IT.

But what happens next year when Frozen fever melts away and you’re left with an awkward production structure? What movie is going to fill that gap? If this is a new precedent for future Disney Christmas celebrations, it’s a dangerous format to follow.

Hopefully, this was a one-time thing. (Please be a one-time thing.)

Disney College Program – What I Learned 1 Year Later

11 Dec

It’s been almost a year since I completed my Disney College Program experience. I left an exhausted shell of a human (thanks, New Years Eve shifts), and I slept the entire drive back to Kentucky. I didn’t think I’d miss it. I went to the parks whenever I got the chance. I had enough Disney movies on VHS to sustain me. Disney depression might exist for some people, but not me. I was above it.

Wrong. ALL WRONG.

I confess my role with Walt Disney World had absolutely NOTHING to do with my journalism degree (much to the chagrin of my adviser and professors). I thought the only “practical” thing to come out of this experience was this blog, which I marketed as validation I put my writing skills to good use.

In doing so, I neglected a plethora of other skills I could actually put on a resume (GASP).

So, for those of you confused as to how to market your mad spieling skills from Attractions or ability to serve thousands of hotdogs per day in Quick Service, here’s how to break it down:

1) If you spieled, congratulations! You have excellent lung capacity, a knack for pantomiming, and a penchant for remembering/relaying information to Guests.

2) If you worked Attractions, your nimble and adept fingers can push multiple buttons in order to restart a 101.

3) Merchandise people, be sure to mention your ability to stay awake until ungodly hours of the wee morn as you stock and organize.

4) Character performers, congratulations. You’re so freaking special. Everyone worships you at the parks. Why do you even need a resume? Just get some headshots done. You’ll be fine.

5) Quick Service F&B, bless your souls. Seriously. Be sure to note your ability to operate often-faulty equipment (merch CMs could put this down, too). Mention your ability to take physical injury and excessive verbal abuses simultaneously.

6) Hotel people, you’re business-y types. You’re probably in hotel management and already have “people-oriented” listed somewhere on your resumes in neatly-organized serif fonts.

7) EVERYONE WHO MADE IT THROUGH DCP: You all have people skills. You all worked hours/shifts you didn’t think you could finish. You worked in conditions and lived with people you might not have liked against your will. You missed family functions, holiday traditions and other opportunities to devote at least five months of your life to making other people happy.

YOU make the magic in the parks, and the boss-mouse couldn’t do it without you.

Good luck putting that on a resume.

PIXAR Releases First Full Trailer for “Inside Out”

11 Dec

Fans have been waiting patiently for a full trailer of PIXAR’s new film “Inside Out,” and today, they finally got the satisfying trailer they wanted.

While the initial teaser introduced us briefly to Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith), audiences were still left wondering what the context was for, well, everything. Who was the girl? What was her story? How were those emotions going to function inside her head?

Most of those questions got answered with “Inside Out’s” latest trailer (and thank goodness, because I was dying).

The trailer expands the snippet of the dinner scene from the teaser. (Kids, great news! You’ll finally see what goes on in your parents’ heads!) We see a bit more of Riley’s personality (well, technically, Anger getting hold of the control panel) and her interactions with Mom and Dad (played by Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan, respectively). The premise for the movie follows Riley and her emotions as they navigate a new life after being uprooted to a new city.

Of all base Pixar plots, this one sounds the least interesting on the surface. A girl moves from one town to another and has to cope with her emotions? Hello, 99 percent of teenage flicks. BUT leave it to PIXAR’s innovative crew and Pete Docter’s incredible writing (Up, Monsters Inc.) to put a twist on a simple concept. Also, audiences should brace themselves for unexpected tears, as Docter’s screenplays have a tendency to make the toughest of men weep (ahem, the Carl/Ellie montage).

Inside Out is slated for release June 19, 2015. 

“Finding Dory” Plot De-Tails

9 Dec

The Pixar announcements just keep swimming, and fans are FINALLY getting some plot details about the mysterious Finding Dory.

Jim Morris, President of Disney-Pixar Studios, said at CCXP (Brazil’s ComicCon) that the film follows Dory, Marlin and Nemo as they venture into the big blue world searching for Dory’s origins and parents.

Morris revealed some new characters audiences can expect to meet in the 2016 film, including an octopus, sea lions and a beluga whale voiced by Ty Burrell (Modern Family). Diane Keaton is slated to voice Dory’s mom, Jenny, and Eugene Levy is set to voice her father, Charlie.

What a family, eh?

There’s no word as to which Finding Nemo favorites will be returning to the sequel, but rumors hint that Gill and Deb will be coming back to aid their friends after escaping those plastic bags at the end of Nemo.

Finding Dory is scheduled to open June 17, 2016.

Who do you want to ‘sea’ back with the gang? Will the seagulls make a triumphant return to claim the movie? Will Dory’s parents share in her short-term memory, making it just as difficult for them to remember her as it is her them? Comment below!