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(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a villanelle, a special form with alternating repeated lines as below, and the prompt suggested incorporating someone else’s words. The repeated lines I used are drawn from the musical Into the Woods, along with part of the theme.)

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Careful the tale you tell,
For tales are not words but adventures and fates;
All stories cast a spell.

They conjure the best and worst places to dwell,
And leave you in clouds or burdened by weights.
Careful the tale you tell.

Emotions on strings as they rise and repel
Are pulled by the magic that fiction creates.
All stories cast a spell.

No louche Casanova, no wish from a well
Has broken more hearts or honored more dates.
Careful the tale you tell.

Each one is a world and a ceiling-less cell,
Where soon-to-be-friends and a new home awaits.
All stories cast a spell.

When fantasy finally bids you farewell,
How do you feel as the world deviates?
Careful the tale you tell;
All stories cast a spell.

MPAA rating:  PG

Those familiar with this blog might already know that I’m a huge fan of musicals. While others roll their eyes or cringe at all-sung films like Les Miserables, I love it. There’s something about the combination of song, lyric, dance, and story that I find particularly appealing and entertaining. However, not all musicals are equal, and all four (sometimes three minus dance) of those ingredients have to be on point for the magic to work. Into the Woods comes so close to nailing them all, yet by the end, I could only wonder what went wrong.

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Based on Stephen Sondheim’s popular musical, which is just as old as The Phantom of the Opera, Into the Woods weaves multiple fairy tale stories together: Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Rapunzel, and an original connecting tale of a Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt) seeking out spell ingredients for a desperate Witch (Meryl Streep). The way the stories blend together and overlap, playing out in familiar ways with unexpected connections, is a joy to watch, especially with hammy but committed performances from Johnny Depp, Chris Pine, and Streep (who shockingly got an Oscar nomination; she’s good, but this is probably her least deserving role).

It’s a highly enjoyable movie, or rather two-thirds of a movie, because at a certain point, it’s just…ruined. At a happy moment that could have ended the film well, the story suddenly takes a left turn into disaster and tragedy and shattered reputations. It’s a dark move, which is apparently even darker in the stage version, and it saps most of the enjoyment from the film as a whole.

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Even if none of the songs are instant classics likely to live long in the memory, the music is the saving grace of Into the Woods. My VC thought the tunes were a bit too repetitious, lacking the complexity or vocal range of Phantom or Les Mis, but, as a poet, I especially admired the clever lyrics and rhymes. It has outstanding production values and strong performances too, but in its effort to offer a darkly unsatisfying take on beloved stories, this fractured fairy tale proves to be a failed musical in my book. My VC and I agree that we would recommend the first two thirds; just bail when the tale goes to pot.

Best line: (the Baker’s Wife) “Oh, if life were made of moments, even now and then a bad one – But if life were only moments, then you’d never know you had one.”


Rank:  Dishonorable Mention


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