Into The Woods Review
A FAIRY TALE THEATER FOR ADULTS
Not so long ago, before DreamWorks’s Shrek, ABC’s Once Upon a Time, and a plethora of other media outlets (via books, film, and TV), the surreal idea of blending fairy tales together was almost untouched and not as commonplace as it is today. Back in 1986, Steven Sondheim produced a stage musical of this very same idea and called it Into the Woods, which debuted at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre and then premiered on Broadway that following year. While it wasn’t the first (or even the last) in the stories of fairy tale crossovers, it was definitely one of the most notable and iconic ones in the bunch. Now Walt Disney Studios brings Sondheim’s musical to the big screen with a film adaption Into the Woods. Can this lyrical fairy tale-mash up find it’s “happily ever after” or does it, likes it characters, get lost in the woods?
In a “once upon a time” land of fairy tales, The Baker (James Corden) and The Baker’s Wife (Emily Blunt) are struggling to have a baby. One day, bursting into their home, appears The Witch (Meryl Streep), a nasty old croon that’s needs the couples help in breaking a curse on her. Offering the chance of bearing a child, The Witch enlist the pair to complete a scavenger hunt, retrieving Cinderella’s (Anna Kendrick) golden slipper, Red Riding Hood’s (Lila Crawford) red cape, Jack’s (Daniel Huttlestone) white cow, and Rapunzel’s (Mackenzie Mauzy) yellow hair. Journeying off into the woods to find these pieces particular items, the couple is confronted, and soon entangled, in the dramatic lives of others, watching Cinderella’s Prince (Chris Pine) and Rapunzel’s Prince (Billy Magnussen) wooing over their affection for them, assisting Red Riding Hood with her dealings with The Wolf (Johnny Depp), avoiding a “giant” problem from a magic beanstalk, and, of course, the pressure from The Witch to get the task completed in three nights. Will anyone live “happily ever after”?
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Giving its thematic elements of dark undertones and adult content, many fans of the original stage musical were a little bit leery (perhaps concerned) that Disney would restrain its narrative; never allowing the feature to reach its full extent. Amidst doubts and speculations, the film still retains most of its nuances with only several modifications to its film adaptation. Purists, as always, will begrudgingly moan as its differences (whether altering a character from dying in the end or omitting particular songs and reprisals). Even with its fanciful fairy tale premise, however, the movie can be slightly off-putting for some, especially younger children. If hesitant, I believe it’s a good idea to warrant a little research of the source material first before seeing it (I personally did so as I didn’t know it was a musical to begin with). Overall, though, Into the Woods keeps its own identity with a few moderate tweaks in its big screen debut.
Helming this “play to screen” undertaking is director Rob Marshall, whose previous musical adaptations includes the academy award film Chicago and Nine, making him a prime candidate for brining a cinematic tale of Into the Woods to life. To his credit, Marshall succeeds in the regards of still keeping the story’s edge, framework, and musical sequences with its colorful characters. Also, with a modest budget, Marshall and his creative team bring this fairy tale world to life in a way that’s gritty and sort of grounded in realism (through costumes and sets), but still has its fantasy charm with magical frivolities.
Like most movies, Into the Woods can’t escape its fair share of criticism and faults. While the original musical runs roughly about eighty minutes long, the film eclipses that duration, tacking on an additional forty minutes for two hour feature. The result makes Into the Woods too long for its own good with scenes that either drag, superfluous in nature, or even rushed. The second-half of the film is notable for doing this as events slow happen (lengthening the feature) with final confrontation, despite titular events that surrounded it, that’s quickly dealt with and left a anti-climatic feeling in its wake. Giving its limitations on-stage and its opportunity to be presented as a movie, one would think that Into Woods would be expanded upon with the ability to explore elements that took place off-stage in the original show. Unfortunately, besides a couple of shots, the film doesn’t really go off the beaten path with this idea, which is disappointing to say the least.
As far as acting goes, Into the Woods’s cast is collectively solid with each performer bringing to life their respective characters vividly. The best is, of course, Meryl Streep as The Witch. The legendary actress seems to relish the chance to play this character and does fantastic job in The Witch’s conniving and manipulative persona. She also does terrific job singing, belting out musical numbers like “Stay with Me” and “Last Midnight” with great ease. James Corden, future host to the Late Late Show, is both relatable and likeable as The Baker with an earnest everyman quality to him. Emily Blunt gives a commendable performance as The Baker’s wife in both terms of acting and surprisingly singing quite good. Anna Kendrick is dependable as Cinderella, hitting all the right musical notes, especially her solo song “On the Steps of the Palace” as well as a creating a slightly more complex Cinderella than other iterations.
Child actors Lila Crawford and Daniel Huttlestone, who play Little Red Riding Hood and Jack, hold their own as their characters and prove in acting and singing to go toe-to-toe with their adult-costars. Chris Pine plays the character of The Prince with enough charm in his dashing looks and humor in his princely persona. Mackenzie Mauzy’s Rapunzel is probably the weakest performance in the film with her character getting minimal screen time and never truly fleshing out her princess role. The same can be said with Billy Magnussen as Rapunzel’s prince who, like her, not completely fleshed out with the exception of his duet song with Chris Pine’s character titled “Agony”. Rounding out the cast is Johnny Depp as The Wolf, who has a small role (more like small cameo), but plays his part well with enough danger and bravado that only Depp could provide.
“Be careful what you wish for” is the tagline for Rob Marshall’s adaption of Sondheim’s musical and delivers on that promise, examining both wishful desires and harsh consequences to these fairy tale characters. Into the Woods brings all the pomp and flashy stage components one would expect to this feature with its primary narrative still intact, a terrific cast and lyrical songs. The movie has its unbalanced flaws, most notably in its lengthy runtime, failing to expand beyond its giving source material, and hurriedly final act, but its overall enjoyment is entertaining. Whether you love the play or just simply love fairy tales, Into the Woods offers a cheeky, yet sardonic look in this storybook world of make believe that has some for everyone.