Into The Woods is a musical I remember very well from seeing it the first time. When I learned that Disney was making a movie version of the popular musical, I was both glad and surprised. The musical is a dark look at wishes come true. When Disney is all about dreams coming true, this seemed like an odd association. Yet, Disney pulls off a magical journey into a forest…
The story intertwines many famous fairy tale characters all in the main setting of a wooded area that seems to transform each person. The witch, played by Meryl Streep, instructs a barren Baker and his wife how to lift the curse of their barrenness, which was placed by her many years before. In the process, the witch also informs them of the Baker’s sister that she stole away all those years ago. Meanwhile, Cinderella wishes to go to the festival her step family is going to. Also meanwhile, Red Riding Hood is on her way to granny’s house, being instructed to stay on the straight path. Even more meanwhile Jack is to sell his friend, Milky White the cow and venturing into the woods for the task. It so happens that the Baker’s instructions are to gather items from each of these other characters. Both he and his wife keep encountering the characters, while many challenges lie in the way of the other characters as well. Eventually, the prince finds and marries Cinderella, the Baker and his wife lift the curse with the items, Jack climbs a beanstalk and helps his family with the gold from the giants. And Red realizes she must stay on the path her mother and granny instructed. But, during a ceremony at the castle, a giant comes to exact revenge on Jack. People die, others are betrayed, and a plot is concocted to fell the giant. Eventually, the remaining characters band together and become a family to carry on after their tragedies. Oh, and Rapunzel and her prince are around. Sorry to just stick them in, but they kind of are in this version. Rapunzel’s hair is an item for the Baker, and she is the sister the Baker never knew about.
It’s hard to critique this movie version of the plot. I mean, it’s based on a great plot already. The big difference is what was cut out to move it along in a film format. I’ve got to say that it moves along quite well. Already knowing what was to happen, there were elements that are gone. I must say, though, I didn’t miss them very much. The only hard thing is Rapunzel and her prince’s part. Without the broader role they have in the stage musical, they seem out of place. Rapunzel serves as the witch’s example of struggle and showing desire for children to listen well…although the witch didn’t treat her well. Otherwise, it’s a fast moving, not confusing story. Yes, much is cut out from the stage musical to explain some of the darker scenes that come later, I think it’s needed to move the story along for a film audience. Also, then, the movie is not hours long, which would need an intermission.
It’s sometimes scary for fans of an original to see certain actors and actresses in the roles that were already famous. But, I enjoyed much of the characters even more than the version that I previously saw. Everyone did wonderfully. Anna Kendrick as Cinderella is admirable and adorable. Chris Pine did excellent as her prince. I thought it would end up being Captain Kirk as a prince, but he made this role his own and was very convincing as a likable lady’s man. Tracy Ullman did great as Jack’s mother. The children, Daniel Huttlestone and Lilla Crawford as Jack and Red Riding Hood, fulfilled their roles grandly. Johnny Depp as The Wolf had a very un-Jack Sparrow portrayal, which was nice to not have him too crazy. The runaway roles were James Corden, Emily Blunt, and Meryl Streep as the Baker, the Baker’s wife, and the witch. These three were the best out of the bunch and were better than some stage production versions. All the acting made this musical be both greatly enjoyable and even convincing. It’s something hard to do with such a fantasy setting of a movie.
Yes. It’s a Broadway musical. Can the movie’s soundtrack be critiqued? Well, there were certainly variations of the original. Take “Hello, Little Girl” sung by The Wolf. It does have a bit of swing in the Broadway production, but this had a jazzier style to it. Some will shun the abomination to the original, but I gladly welcomed a style choice like this. It set some songs apart from each other. Especially when the rest keep the usual orchestral sounding style. Even the instrumental elements of the soundtrack were a great part of the film.
Not to be missed is the set of the film. The woods, of course, are the main setting and set for the movie. As a constructed wood set goes, this was vast and set up the confusing pathways that are characteristic. It’s a wonder how any of them know where to go in and out! It looked wonderful and grand. The castles and countryside were very European, not like the fantasy worlds we’d maybe expect. In all, a great set for the wonderful film.
I keep writing this movie has great, wonderful, and delightful elements, but is this a movie worth seeing? From having previously seen the Broadway production, I can say there are parts that are missed. But, it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. The film is varied from its stage productions. There will be complaints on this. Having to cut down time and, thus, make decisions on plot elements, this film did a great a job at preserving the main points of the story while keeping it for a film audience. What may be hard for some is how quickly the “darkness” creeps into the main characters. In the stage productions there is more taken to craft the reasons for characters’ motivations and twists. It’s not as apparent in the film because of having to move the overall plot forward. Still, it’s not a bad job, just a different perspective on it all.
Overall, this was a greatly enjoyable musical film. Not the best that’s out there, but very good. Each piece, the acting, the plot, the direction, the songs, etc. are seamed together to create a wonderful production. It feels like a unique Disney film. It has that Disney magic, but with some twists to it. As a fan of the musical itself, I can say that I’m glad I saw the film and would even see it again. It’s just a fun film.
I can understand people’s complaints about its variations, but I must say that they aren’t that warranted. View it for what it is: a take on the original musical production, and one that needs to fit a specific format. It didn’t feel like it was long. Rob Marshall did his directing well to have everyone take on their roles seriously and superbly. The emotion is well placed in every scene.
For those that have never seen any version of the musical, know that this is a tragic story. There is a bit of a happy ending, but not at the expense of a lot. It’s not the happy Disney story that is known. If you’re looking for a fairy tale type movie this winter, this will fit the bill greatly. It’s a treat for anyone to watch that is up for a good old fashioned musical.
I highly recommend catching the film. It was one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen of late, and I think many others will enjoy it too.