Into the Woods: A Review

into_the_woodsHollywood’s latest stab at the Broadway musical adaptation, Disney’s Into the Woods, is mostly great, even brilliant, except when it isn’t.  I’ve rarely left a movie feeling more befuddled and mixed in my responses.  One side of me loved it and another was very frustrated.

In fact, if you had asked me at the 1 1/2 hour mark what I thought it would have been an enthusiastic A+ when it seemed like everything was ending and happy and then it took a turn.  In the movie’s defense the play takes that same turn but it felt like one ending too many and honestly it was a part of the play I was hoping would be omitted or glossed over.

Well, let’s talk about the good things because there are a lot.  Most importantly the singing.  It is uniformly great.  There is no Russell Crowe or Pierce Brosnan to suffer through.  They all sound Broadway level quality. Some we knew could sing like Meryl Streep (Mamma Mia, Prairie Home Companion), Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect), and Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd).  Others were not familiar to me as singers but do very well like Emily Blunt and Chris Pine.

I have no complaints about the singing and that is saying something because Stephen Sondheim’s music is no easy task to perform.  He is extremely challenging to sing because his musicals aren’t all that melodic and he loves minor keys and strange chords and key signatures.  On the Steps of the Palace changes keys like 4 times in 1 song.  It’s extremely difficult but they all did a great job.

The cast was also uniformly strong in their acting of these fairytale roles.  Meryl Streep is great, and Oscar Winner Colleen Atwood deserves another for the amazing costume and makeup.

witch and rapunzelJohnny Depp was actually very good as the Wolf.  It is the best I’ve seen him in since Finding Neverland.  It is another fairytale like creature but in small doses I didn’t mind it (I’m so sick of Johnny Depp/Tim Burton pairing).  He’s only in the movie for 2 or 3 brief scenes but he does them very well.

wolf and red ridingAnna Kendrick is also good as a very modern version of Cinderella. She can’t decide whether she wants to be a princess or not which is a clever take on the story.

cinderellaChris Pine and Billy Magnusson are also hilarious as the two princes’ singing the play’s best song Agony.princes

Like I said if the movie had ended at 1 and half hour in I would have been thrilled with it.  It’s a tacked on 2nd act in the final 30-45 minutes that begins to lose me.

I don’t want to spoil anything but basically Into the Woods is a combination in one movie of Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk.

Into The Woods 2014 Cast1The new characters are The Baker and The Baker’s Wife (Emily Blunt and James Drenton) who get told by The Witch there is a curse on their family and they must bring her back 4 items from the Woods to break the curse.  Naturally each of these 4 items are a part of the 4 fairytales.

But the last third of the story that narrative is kind of abandoned and we get a bit of a disaster/fight the giant sequence where people die, are unfaithful and everything gets very serious.  It just bummed me out because we were on such a high and then ended on a semi-high.  Still good but not as excited as I was at 90 minute mark.

Oh well.  What I did like I really liked.  The look of the film is dark but with a certain cheerful spooky feel to it.  Tracy Ulman is fun as Jack’s Mother and it’s fun to see her back on screen again.

The CGI looks fine because most of it is in the dark at night and I find darkness a bit more forgiving with CGI.

Basically I really enjoyed it until that last third.  It’s a joke it got a PG rating when you have multiple characters dying, 2 being eaten, feet getting severed, characters blinded, and a woman who is unfaithful to her husband.  Stupid MPAA. If I had kids those would all be points of concern.  I mean I don’t want to be explaining to my little child why the Bakers Wife is kissing another man.  I wish they had toned that part down from the original play. I haven’t seen the play in probably 10 years so I couldn’t remember.  I just hate it when you feel like everyone in the movie is a jerk. Need someone to root for.

Well, I can’t really give much else away without spoiling it.  Just keep in mind- I liked it, except that last 1/3rd when the personalities and tone shift.

Still a definite recommendation based on the great singing, costumes, and an overall entertaining movie

Overall Grade- B

Jeremy Jahns and I are on totally the same page on this one

23 thoughts on “Into the Woods: A Review

      1. Hey, sorry I didn’t reply back sooner. I was busy with some other stuff. Anyway, I liked this film a lot. I’d at least say it was a good film, not a great one. I say that mainly because there were one or two things I had issues with such as the baker’s wife cheating on him with Cinderella’s prince and the fact that none of the characters seem to live their happily ever afters after all, you know? Aside from that, I enjoyed it a lot from the music to the story, you name it. Hey, if you don’t mind me asking, what are your thoughts on the new Cinderella film coming out this March?

      2. I think we are on the same page with this one. A lot to like but the last 30 minutes with all the stuff you mentioned were a downer. I wish it had just ended with Cinderella’s wedding. I was loving the film then but still enjoyed it on the whole.

        As far as Cinderella I am cautiously optimistic. Of all the fairytale retellings I think Cinderella I am the most open to because it has been told so many times in great versions like Ever After with Drew Barrymore and Angelica Houston or the Slipper and the Rose from the 70s (hilarious musical).

        My worry is they will turn the mice into wise cracking CGI monstrosities. I don’t understand why Disney doesn’t use the music in these versions. It doesn’t make any sense when you have such great songs?

        I guess I am more open to the new Cinderella because I am not as tied to the original Disney version as I am with Snow White, Sleeping Beauty or Alice in Wonderland so we will see.

  1. Indeed we will. Well, yeah, I guess it might have been better if they ended at Cinderella’s wedding, eh? Still, how do we know there would have been just as many people who would have liked it then? Hard to say though, I guess.

      1. Yep. I wish they had just made their own story and not tried to make it look and feel like the original. That made the changes so frustrating. They ruined a great villain, prince and the faeries. It was too much. Why not explain how she became bad not turn her into good, into a victim of some evil man….Groan. Anyway I’ve said my peace on that movie a lot. I’m too attached to the original so the changes pissed me off

    1. I’m just saying what I would have liked better. I have no idea what others think. I’m purists to the play would have been upset

  2. I agree that it was a solid movie in the beginning, but the last part really just droned on, and the pace and tone changed dramatically. Great review!

    1. Yep we are on same page with that. Perhaps it really deserves a C but I was so into it for so long that counts for something. Honestly if I got the bluray I’d just stop watching at Cinderella’s wedding because it was so great and that’s where it should have ended anyway

    1. That’s so cool! Congrats! Whatd you think of the movie vs the play? I loved it up till the last act when it changed tones and stories but the music, sets, performances, costumes are great.

  3. I saw this movie on a plane recently and I didn’t like it at all. I felt the characters were either boring or annoying, and the songs were some of the poorest I’ve heard in any musical, not the slightest bit catchy or memorable.

    1. I can see that response. Sondheim is an acquired taste. For me it was a mixed bag but I am very hot and cold on the musical too. Probably one of rare instances I wish they hadnt been so loyal to the source material

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