Sweeney Todd is by no means is a conventional movie-musical. It takes several forms of music and theater and artfully places them together. Sweeney Todd May be a dark musical, but its construction lends well to light voices and an equally light orchestral style. Sweeney Todd is adapted from a play by Christopher Bond who’s play is based on the English myth of The Demon Barber of Fleet Street which is partly historically based. After a prologue by the chorus, the story begins in 19th century London where we see Anthony and Sweeney Todd arriving on a small boat.
Anthony sings about how wonderful it is to be back home in London. A beggar woman comes and harasses Sweeney and Anthony and insists that she knows Sweeney. After Sweeney shoos her away he begins to sing about how horrible London is and tells a story his past. Sweeney leaves Anthony and goes to Nellie Lovett’s pie shop and has one of her horrible pies.
He inquires about the room above her shop. She tells him that people say the room is haunted because of something bad that had happened there long ago. Sweeney ask to hear more and Mrs.
Lovett tells of a barber named Benjamin Barker who had a beautiful wife. A Judge wanted his wife so he wrongly accused Benjamin Barker of a crime and sent him to Australia and raped his wife. After this story Mrs. Lovett realizes that Sweeney Todd is really Benjamin Barker and has returned to get revenge on Judge Turpin and his accomplice Beatle Bamfo. Sweeney learns that his wife drank poison and his daughter is being kept by Judge Turpin. Mrs. Lovett then presents Sweeney with his razors and Sweeney vows to get revenge on the Judge. I am of two minds about Sweeney Todd.
On one hand I loved the story, but there was too much music. I know, I know it’s a musical, but it is my comment. I can handle musicals if there is decent ratio of dialogue to musical numbers and unfortunately, there is much more of the latter. Not only is there a ton of music but for the most part it is almost overpowering and most definitely over the top. Many repeat themes and numbers make the musical portion of Sweeney Todd a chore to really get into at times. On the other hand, the performances and production values almost make up for the amount of music in the film.
Depp is at the top of his game and mesh’s very well with Helena Bonham Carter’s Mrs. Lovett. Both play their parts to the brink of being over the top without following the music over the edge. Alan Rickman and Timothy Spall are delightfully creepy as Judge Turpin and his assistant Beadle Bamford. Sascha Baron Cohen really stole the show during his short appearance in the film though. His Signor Adolfo Pirelli was absolutely the most fun performance. Burton really should have kept him around longer.
In a nutshell, Tim Burton is the master at creating dark films and when you team him with Johnny Depp you know that you will get your moneys worth. Thus far Sweeney Todd is Depp and Burton’s sixth collaboration together and they seem to have found their stride. And yet while Sweeney Todd worked for me on a story-telling level, the over abundance of music turned me off. I would say that Sweeney Todd is not for casual movie fans, you really should be either a real big fan of musicals or Tim Burton’s biggest fan to truly appreciate Sweeney Todd.
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