Into the Woods.
Now, some history. I used to do musical theatre so I’m familiar with the Broadway play that this movie is based on. I remember renting the VHS of it in high school from the local library. The movie is being marketed as “Before Once Upon a Time, there was Into the Woods.” It’s true. This play has been around awhile and was one of the first to mix and match fairy tales, though tended to be a little darker than the Disney versions.
So when it was first announced that Disney was making this… I was hesitant. There are some pretty gruesome parts of the play.
Did Disney manage to faithfully bring Into the Woods to the big screen? Or is it better left on the stage?
Into the Woods is a musical, with very little dialogue actually just being dialogue. It’s not as intense as Les Miserables but it’s more of a musical than other recent outings. In our opening scene, we meet a Baker and his wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt) who cannot conceive a child. The mysterious witch arrives (Meryl Streep) and tells them that they can’t have a child because of a spell she cast many years ago but tells them that if they retrieve four items, she’ll reverse it. Retrieving these items makes the Baker and his wife cross paths with Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) and her Prince (Chris Pine), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) and her Prince (Billy Magnussen), little Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and his cow Milky White, and Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) and the Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Depp).
For the most part, Into the Woods is really enjoyable.
The casting was pretty spot-on. They’ve got talent with some major acting chops, but managed to bring in talent from musical theater, including the two kids (most notably Daniel Huttlestone who was just seen in Les Miserables as well). I was worried about the “Hollywood” talent and their ability to pull this off, but the music was pretty incredible. The highlight of the movie for me was a duet between the two Princes in a piece called “Agony.” Chris Pine managed to steal the show in almost every scene he was in.
Emily Blunt also did a pretty spectacular job, bringing me nearly to tears in the movie’s climax. Overall, it was a stellar cast and delivered performances equal to what I’ve seen from the Broadway show.
And aside from a few reprises, they didn’t cut much from the show (but that does mean you’ve got a ~2.5 hour runtime). It’s a faithful adaptation, which was my number one concern.
As a non-fan of the play, would you enjoy this? I think so. If you can get over the sometimes awkward nature of musicals, you’ll find an engaging and interesting story here.
What doesn’t work?
Standing out like a sore thumb is Johnny Depp’s Big Bad Wolf. He looks kind of strange and his ode to Red Riding Hood (“Hello, Little Girl”) comes across more … sexual than it probably should have. That whole sequence just made me uncomfortable.
A criticism of the original play is that the lyrics aren’t always very elegant. It comes across even moreso here, as some songs just come across as gibberish when looked at critically.
The movie’s length and pacing is a bit of an issue, as I could sense my theater stirring as the third act just begun. And the musical pieces in the final act tend to be slow tearjerkers, so that means the audience will likely become disengaged. This movie doesn’t have the benefit of having an intermission like the play would.
Some people just won’t appreciate this musical re-telling of classic fairytales. I heard people scoffing in my theater as they clearly didn’t know what this was before they bought their ticket. But if you understand and know this going in, you can have a good time. It’s a bit long and the end can be a little hard to sit through patiently, but Into the Woods delivers some fantastic performances and music that you’ll be humming for weeks. Chris Pine and Emily Blunt were the standouts, though only Johnny Depp’s awkward Big Bad Wolf failed to hit the mark. Most of you would find this movie enjoyable.