Into The (Holly)Woods

Into The Woods is one of my favourite musicals. So you can imagine my excitement when the teaser trailer came out last week. Meryl Streep! Johnny Depp! Anna Kendrick! Rob Marshall directing! A big fat Disney budget! All those amazing songs- wait a minute… 


In the entire minute and forty-seven seconds of the trailer, there is not one note sung, nor any indication that this is a musical.

I haven’t had the good fortune of getting invited to behind-the-scenes marketing meetings at Disney, but I suspect that there was a feeling that they could create more buzz surrounding the movie without telling viewers that it was a musical.

Are we musical theatre loving people that uncool? Does the very hint of a movie being a musical make ticket buyers scream in horror and run in the opposite direction?

While the musical theatre advocate in me wants to protest, there is another part of me that kind of agrees with this decision.

In truth, I’m not totally certain about the movie musical form.

I love the classics. I’d gladly sit down on a rainy day and revisit The Sound of Music, Fiddler On The Roof, My Fair Lady, Cabaret, The Wizard of Oz, The Music Man. These are glorious films.

But something weird happened with the genre around the time Madonna raised her arms for Argentina in Evita. I started to hate movie musicals. With the exception of Chicago, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and parts of Les Miserables, I have hated all movie musicals in the last 20 years. Phantom of the Opera. The Producers. Rent. Dreamgirls. Hairspray. Sweeney Todd. Mamma Mia. Nine. Etc.

Why is this? How can a guy who loves nothing more than to sit in a dark theatre and enjoy ANY musical not connect with the material when the actors are 20 feet tall and their voices blasted in digital surround sound? And more importantly, how come I didn’t feel that way about any movie musical created before 1990?

I think for me, the problem is inherent in the genre. In musical theatre, the minute the lights go down, we accept an alternate universe where everyone sings their emotions. I find musicals to be one of the most emotionally engaging forms of storytelling, and yet – on a logical level – they are ridiculous. Who the heck walks around singing all day? They work because of a suspension of reality inherent in live theatre.

Film on the other hand has become more and more realistic over time. Watching Hello Dolly in 1969 with the wide shots and fuzzy film somehow feels ‘other worldly’. I can easily accept the convention of singing. But in contemporary filmmaking, the incorporation of high definition makes the aesthetic of most films I see feel quite real. I feel like I am witnessing the minutiae of the actions of the characters on screen. It’s a very intimate relationship between actor and viewer. And so, when the character suddenly breaks into song, I find it – well – jarring. It completely throws me off. Even worse, when you watch West Side Story, the grainy filming makes it very tough to sense that Marni Nixon is actually the one singing for Natalie Wood. But the moment Rosario Dawson breaks into “Would You Light My Candle”, I can literally see the auto-tuning and even the most perfect syncing between the pre-recorded audio and video performance feels imperfect emotionally.

So, it is with mixed emotions that I await the “filmification” of Into The Woods. In fact, now that I think about it, maybe the decision to keep the trailer “song-free” had nothing to do with spectators thinking musicals are uncool. Maybe Disney is protecting the film from critics like me whose jaded relationship with the movie musical genre makes us suspect that the minute those characters break out into song, another musical we have always loved will suddenly look a little less magical.

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