Starring: Meryl Streep, James Corden, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Daniel Huttlestone, Lilla Crawford, Christine Baranski, Lucy Punch, Tammy Blanchard, Tracey Ullman, Mackenzie Mauzy, Billy Magnussen, Johnny Depp
Directed By: Rob Marshall
I do have a decent knowledge of music theatre and Broadway productions. While I was lightly familiar with Into The Woods, it was really only just a casual thing. I couldn’t tell you what they lifted out or put in. I have no idea how faithful of an adaptation it is, nor can I compare it really to anything.
The story follows an ensemble of characters. Most notably, the Baker (Corden) and his wife (Blunt), who both really want to have a child, but find out they can’t because of a curse placed on them by the witch (Streep) over something the Baker’s father did. So, the witch gives them a task to collect four items: a cow as white as milk, a red cape, golden hair, and a glass slipper. This causes run ins with other storybook characters like Cinderella (Kendrick), Rapunzel (Mauzy), Jack (Huttlestone), and Red (Crawford). Of course, it’s more complicated than that, and those four all have their own crap to deal with. Cinderella has her evil stepmother (Baranski), ugly stepsisters (Blanchard/Punch), and her prince (Pine). Rapunzel has a prince too (Magnussen), and also has been raised by the witch, who keeps her locked away in a tower. Jack has been told to sell their cow by his mom (Ullman), but he sells the cow to the Baker for beans, which turn out to be magic, and grow a massive beanstalk to a realm of giants. Red is being stalked by a wolf (Depp), and she’s also a little bit of a klepto.
As a movie, and my first time seeing Into The Woods ever done in its entirety, I really enjoyed it. I’m so happy they kicked that youtube girl out and brought in Lilla Crawford. She’s so good as Red Riding Hood. Meryl Streep is pretty good as the Witch, but in her long and storied career, I doubt this would make the Top 10. Daniel Huttlestone is the go to boy for musicals now, after having killed it as Gavroche in Les Miserables. He kills it again here as Jack. Really, the cast is great across the board.
Unlike Les Miserables, there aren’t really any weak singers. Everyone here can sing their given material well enough. No one is amazing, but everyone is good. Into The Woods is mostly sung, and not a lot of dialogue (kind of like Les Miserables, but a little more dialogue than that). Corden is probably the biggest breakthrough here as the Baker, but Emily Blunt and Anna Kendrick are both also standouts. Chris Pine is probably the weakest cast member, if I had to single someone out. Johnny Depp is even decent as the Wolf, which is a very small role.
The production design and visual effects are top notch. This film could do well in the technical categories at the Oscars. It’s a shame it can’t get music recognition, because the music is really good too. The performances? I can’t imagine anyone other than Streep getting nominated. There are strong supporting performances here, but they’re all like 6-10, and would slide in only if the categories were expanded like Best Picture. As far as the pantheon of movie musicals, I don’t see this being at the top, but it’ll be near the top. Like, maybe not top 10, but top 25? Sure. Do you get the picture?
It’s a movie/musical that falls just short of greatness. It’s like qualifying for the Olympic team, and beating out all those other athletes, but when it came down to it, you just didn’t medal. But hey, at least you reached the Olympics. Into The Woods is that. It’s that film that’s really good, but it’s not perfect. It’s not “the best”, and it won’t be remembered as such. Maybe if they hadn’t played it safe with the Disney logo, they would have been able to really hit harder and achieve legendary status. Instead, you get an audience of people who leave the theatre going “yeah, that was pretty good”, but secretly already planning their next trip to the cinema. It’s a celluloid appetizer that doesn’t quite fill you up. Not that it doesn’t taste good, it just fell a little short. And for a lot of films, it’s OK that you fell short, and you get an A- or a B+. But when you might be nominated for Best Picture, it’s those A-‘s and B+’s that kill your chance, and another film slides in instead.
FINAL GRADE: A-