Quick Hit: Fractured throughout, and never entirely satisfying, this adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s famous musical leaves you longing for the stage.
Important Disclaimer – I have not seen this musical on the stage. After watching the film adaptation, I’m curious as to how much better it is on stage, because there are arguably scenes that could have been done much, much better (including the opener). But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself there. Today’s film is Into The Woods starring a whole lot of people that you’ll recognize, including Emily Blunt, Meryl Streep, James Corden, Chris Pine, and Anna Kendrick, plus a few others.
The movie starts off with a strong song, with all the vocal performances being impressive. The story essentially winds together several of the Grimm brother's most famous fairy tales – Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood – and makes one tale out of them surrounding a Baker and his wife that are desperate to conceive a child. The film strains at times with the weight of all these stories – though at times it’s thrilling to have everyone on screen (much like some of the opening seasons of ABC’s Once Upon a Time). The songs suffer as well from the manic editing to try and fit everyone in (as I alluded to in the first paragraph, this is extremely evident in the opening song “Into the Woods”).
The vocal performances are very strong overall. Streep (who was nominated for an Oscar for her performance) knocks out her solo with a gusto that she showed again in Florence Foster Jenkins. I knew Corden was musically talented, but Blunt outshines him, with a propensity to pause and giggle or breathe mid-note that is extremely stage-like. However, my favorite moment in the entire movie is when the princes take the time to sing “Agony” amidst a waterfall. Chris Pine shows a musical talent that would have made him an excellent second choice to Luke Evans as Gaston in 2017’s Beauty and the Beast, and the entire song is the best part of the movie. In research for the film I learned that there is actually a reprise of this song later that was cut from the film, and that’s a shame.
The sets continually shrink, and it forces all the characters together. While I see the necessity in making this happen, it instead gives the feeling of limitation to a film that seemed so wide and vast previously. With the introduction of CGI giants and spells, the film starts to fall off the rails towards the end. It ends up being extremely overlong, and misses out on large time points that are not as well explained as they should have been. There’re also characters that all but disappear. What narrative momentum has been built loses the chance on an intermission, and the handover to the second half of the film is clumsy and mishandled. It doesn’t ruin the film, but it definitely takes a nosedive.
In the end, fans of musical theater of the big screen will take away some enjoyment from Into the Woods, but ultimately, not enough. I’m giving the movie a “C”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"