Jingle the woods

Wed. December 24, 2014 12:00 AM
by Gregg Shapiro

The moral/message of the beloved Tony Award-winning Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine Broadway musical fable Into The Woods (Disney), which takes loving liberties with fairy tales such as Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk, is be careful what you wish for. Sadly, that applies to fans of the musical that wished for a movie version of Into The Woods and got Rob Marshall's Disney dud.

A childless baker and his wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt, respectively), the fairy tale created by Sondheim and Lapine to link all the stories together, wish to have a child. The witch (Meryl Streep) next door, who placed the infertility curse on the baker's father and house, and by extension the baker, agrees to reverse the curse if the baker and his wife are able to bring her a milky white cow (Jack and the Beanstalk), a golden (not glass) slipper (Cinderella), a blood red cape (Little Red Riding Hood) and hair yellow as corn (Rapunzel) in three days' time.

Not surprisingly, the other characters all have wishes, too. For example, Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) wishes to go the king's festival, but her widowed wicked stepmother (Christine Baranski) and stepsisters (Lucy Punch and Tammy Blanchard) have other plans for her. Jack (Daniel Huttleston, channeling Jack Wild in Oliver!) wishes his beloved cow would give milk, but since it won't, his mother (Tracey Ullman) insists he take it to the village and sell it. Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) wishes for bread for her poor old grandmother living in the woods and Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) wishes for company in the tower in which the witch has imprisoned her. The witch also has a wish – to be returned her formerly beautiful self, before the baker's father stole her magic beans.

As these assorted characters begin to cross and re-cross paths in order to make their wishes come true, they encounter a wolf (Johnny Depp), a pair of hot prince brothers (Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen), and ultimately the vengeful and destructive widowed wife (Frances de la Tour) of the giant. There are themes of contentment and discontent, and hints that there will be no happily ever after. Considered by some to be an AIDS allegory (the giant brought to the village by Jack is killing everyone and blame is on everyone's mind), Into The Woods is as much about being in the woods as it is getting out of the woods.

Bogged down by leftover less-than-special effects from Maleficent (at least it's not in 3D), Into The Woods is better than Mamma Mia! in that the performances, especially Blunt, Kendrick and Streep, and, in particular, Pine's campy, over-the-top portrayal of the prince (the "Agony" number, a duet with Magnussen, is the closest thing to a showstopper), occasionally distract from the flaws.

You may never listen to contemporary Christmas music the same way after watching Mitchell Kezin's deeply personal doc Jingle Bell Rocks! (Oscilloscope Laboratories). Kezin, whose obsession with modern holiday tunes, specifically the Nat King Cole number "The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot," leads him on a journey to record stores (i.e. Amoeba Music in Hollywood), into the homes of other collectors (Bill Adler, who helped co-create the Run DMC classic "Christmas In Hollis"), to storage facilities with The Free Design's Bill Dedrick's widow, a radio station (with part-time DJs Andy Cirzan and John Soss), and ultimately a recording studio where a new Calypso version of his favorite holiday song is being recorded.

Along the way, in addition to tracking down valuable LPs and 45s to add to his collection, Kezin interviews a fascinating array of people including Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips, bebop jazz legend Bob Dorough, singer/songwriter Erin Moran aka A Girl Called Eddy, DJ Dr. Demento, openly gay Mexican Elvis impersonator El Vez, Joseph "Run" Simmons, Clarence Carter of "Back Door Santa" fame and gay filmmaker/raconteur/writer John Waters. DVD special features include deleted scenes, additional interviews and "more Christmas goodies."