Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Acting, music, and plenty of fun
Cons: A few good moments from the play cut for time
The Bottom Line:
Take mixed fairy tales
Add dashes of music, laughs
Stir for fun movie
I Wish to Rewatch Into the Woods as Soon as Possible
With the resurgence of fairytale mash ups in TV shows, middle grade novels, and other pop culture, it’s hardly surprising that a studio decided it was time to make a big screen version of the musical Into the Woods. After all, it was mixing up fairytales on Broadway back in the late 80’s, and has developed a large fan base. I count myself among them since I was introduced to a filmed version of the original Broadway cast production about 15 years ago. As a result, I’ve been looking forward to this film all year. I am very happy with the results.
This movie tells the story of a Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt) who wish to have a child. As our story opens, they learn from their neighbor, a Witch (Meryl Streep), that they are under a curse from something that the Baker’s father had done years before. However, they have a chance to reverse the curse by getting items for a potion for her. They need a cow as white a milk, hair as yellow as corn, a cape as red as blood, and a slipper as pure as gold.
As luck would have it, their search for those items in the nearby woods coincides with the stories of Jack of Beanstalk fame (Daniel Huttleston), Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), and Cinderella (Anna Kendrick). Will the Baker and his Wife get all the items by the deadline? Will they keep the others from getting their happy ending?
This is a very fun mash up of all these stories held together by the new tale of the Baker and his Wife. Things pretty much go the way you’d expect, but there is plenty of fun to be had along the way. I and the audience I was with were laughing at several of the scenes and lines.
About two thirds of the way through the film, things do take an unexpected turn and become darker. This is where I like to say the story turns more adult, but just because of the more serious nature of the story. I absolutely agree with the PG rating of the movie, but there is nothing that comes close to warrant it getting something higher. The darker moments are tastefully done and in keeping with other PG movies.
The cast truly shines in this film. I was expecting a great performance from Meryl Streep because, let’s face it, can she give a bad performance? The rest of the cast matched her performance completely. Even though I was already familiar with the story, I was surprised by some of the nuances that the actors put into their performances – just subtle things that made the film much better than the Broadway performance I’ve watched numerous times. (Of course, the stage doesn’t allow for some of that subtly, but that’s a different issue.) This praise flows all the way down to the young cast of Daniel Huttleston and Lilla Crawford. A special note for Johnny Depp fans - despite how he was billed in the movie, he really only has a couple of small scenes near the beginning.
The fact that this is a movie allowed them to stage some of the musical numbers more creatively. We actually got to see a touch of Jack’s journey up the beanstalk in his big song, for example. However, the song that stood out to me the most was “The Steps of the Palace.” The creative way they did it added some fun to a song I’ve always enjoyed and made it much better.
I must also praise “Agony.” Again, I’ve always liked the humor of this song, but this song now brings down the house. Chris Pratt and Billy Magnussen absolutely kill it in this scene. Honestly, it makes me very sad that they left out the reprise of the song from the second act.
Yes, fans of the musical will certainly notice differences. It’s most noticeable in the second act when they compress the time between acts and cuts parts of this section of the story. Even with the cuts, the emotional punch of this section is just as strong. I saw it with my roommate, who knew little of the story, and he loved it, too. Obviously, this section isn’t weakened by the cuts. Yes, there are moments I wish they’d included, and Cinderella seems a bit quick in some of her actions, but it’s a minor point. This is something only those who love the stage show will miss, and even then it’s a small point.
Of course, the one thing I was definitely looking forward to with a big screen version was the sets and special effects. Here, the movie completely hit it out of the park. It looks like they are really in the woods. The magic is perfect. We see the beanstalk. You couldn’t ask for a better movie visually if you tried.
While fans of the stage show will certainly miss a few moments, everyone will be glad they took this trip Into the Woods. I will definitely be buying this movie when it his Blu-Ray and enjoying many repeat trips through this enchanted and musical forest.