If you’ve been around me for more than five seconds, you’re bound to know I’m a big fan of musical theater. Aside from appearing in small parts of performances of Annie and Little Shop of Horrors (I played the first customer who buys Audrey II, thus dooming humanity), I’m seen countless musicals on stage and in cinemas. Into The Woods is one I wasn’t a huge fan of, though that was more due to me having only seen the first act of the show than a statement on the quality of the production itself.
The show takes a cue from the likes of Shrek and puts a spin on well known fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) and Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), giving the tales a more realistic and nuanced take. The film introduces, in addition to the two aforementioned personalities, several different characters such as The Baker (James Corden), The Baker’s Wife (Emily Blunt) and Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) and has their various paths and plots intersect within a large woodland environment known as “The Woods”.
Seeing the various famous fairy tales come to live-action life is kind of neat, though the film feels scattered as it juggles introducing numerous characters and plot threads. Once the assorted stories begin to intertwine things get better, but that scattered feel does hurt making a connection to the characters. Those characters remain a reasonably engaging bunch, with the best person in the film easily being Cinderella’s Prince, played perfectly by Chris Pine. Pine makes every syllable emitted form the character hysterical, with every movement he makes reinforcing the Prince’s pompous and hilarious personality.
Kendrick finds similar success, with her indecisiveness over her potential new life with the prince being played in an effective fashion. Corden and especially Blunt are also really fun characters, the duo having excellent chemistry and some fun musical moments. These two get the story going with their desire to have a child by lifting a troublesome curse preventing that goal that’s been placed by a Witch, played by Meryl Streep. It’s no secret Streep is enormously talented, but this is one of the weaker roles I’ve seen from her, as her hammy performance is sometimes successful, but other times undercuts the quality of moments both humorous and emotional. Not helping matters is how abrupt her storyline comes to an end, a bamboozling turn of events that just sort of left me cold.
As one might expect given the films inspiration being a world famous Broadway musical, Into The Woods has some excellent music, with Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics managing to reinforce the characters inner turmoils in exceptional ways. I also liked how wide of a successful emotional range the songs could go to; there’s songs with heavy romantic tendencies, some with darker material, one tune named Agony that had me rolling in the aisles with laughter, but they all gel within the feature cohesively without sacrificing their individual quality.
Into The Woods is that kind of movie where you have a lot of qualms with it, but you also find lots and lots to enjoy. I do wish the script was less cluttered, and that some performances (like Streep or Daniel Huttlestone, whose strong accent makes it difficult to understand some of his singing) were higher in quality, not to mention an ending that feels at once nicely simple and anticlimactic. But I did fine the feature to be overall very well made from a visual standpoint and also mostly entertaining. One warning if you choose to see this movie; good luck getting some of these excellent songs out of your head!