Hollywood’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.
Johnny 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.
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.
The 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