From it’s very announcement, something seemed off about Disney making an adaptation of Into The Woods. While it may be based on an acclaimed Stephen Sondheim musical, it seemed more like a cynical attempt to get a bunch of fairy tale characters that the company has already exhausted and put them all together in one movie. An Avengers for the Brothers Grimm crowd if you will. However, there was certainly hope, as director Rob Marshall did bring us Chicago, and that won best picture! “Surely” I thought as I entered my near empty 10:45 PM showing last night “with him at the helm and an A-list cast, this won’t be a total waste.” Moral of the night, be careful what you jinx.
A long time ago in a magical land far far away, a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) want more than anything to have a child. They can’t seem to get anywhere, until a hideous witch (Meryl Streep) bursts through the door, claiming that only she can bring them a child, for she has cursed the baker’s family for the sins of his father. In order to get their child, the baker and his wife must recover four items in three days, Cinderella’s (Anna Kendrick) slipper, Jack’s (Daniel Huttlestone) cow, Red Riding Hood’s (Lilla Crawford) red drape, and Rapunzel’s (Mackenzie Mauzy) hair.
For the first fifteen minutes of this, I thought that everything was in good shape. The music was full of winding words and pretty melodies, and the characters seemed fairly well established and full of energy, but then a horrible thing happens. Johnny Depp rears his ugly head as an oddly perverted version of the Big Bad Wolf, and after his embarrassing musical number, all of the positive energy steps off the stage with him. Into The Woods is trying to juggle being quite a few different movies; a deceptively bouncy fairy tale romp, a musical, and ultimately, a subversion of everything one would expect from these kind of stories. Unfortunately, it fails at being every single one.
The greatest tragedy of this film is how absolutely none of these larger than life characters are interesting in the slightest. Part of the blame goes to the writing, which essentially boils each person down to one trait, and then in song has them repeatedly express that trait, the other to the performances. Unfortunately, despite a clear effort being made by everyone in this cast, hardly anyone gets to register much of anything from these underwritten characters. The levels of bad range Emily Blunt and James Corden’s fluttery but soulless, to Chris Pine (as Cinderella’s prince) and Johnny Depp’s hilariously miscast. The only one who comes out of this looking good is Meryl Streep, who theatrically commits to every over the top movement and word coming from the witch, while also managing to wring genuine emotion out of her couple songs.
Musically, the film also suffers. Although lyrically well written, especially towards the start, the musical arrangements for them all are extremely similar, and unlike something like Les Miserables, where that type of operatic approach works due to huge and resonant characters and emotions, this just feels like one flat two hour song. Beyond that, I wasn’t terribly impressed with anyone’s singing with the exception of Streep. Although the songs were recorded in the studio, they sound like rough demos, with pretty terrible dubbing to boot. There’s not that one song that just floors the audience, or the funny one with the memorable lyrics, it’s all just a plateau of blah.
Then, after an hour and a half of making me not care for anything going on in it, the final thirty minutes take a somewhat dark turn that’s supposed to hit like a freight train. However, since none of the characters are well established in the first place, the consequences of their actions feel forced, as do the illicit activities that some of them get into.From my understanding, this segment makes up the majority of the play, and that might work better, but here it feels like a little kids movie suddenly trying to wear big boy pants, and it just doesn’t work.
I get the sense that everyone involved with Into The Woods were really trying to make it work, and because of that, I feel sorry and slightly embarrassed for them that it failed so greatly. It manages to take classic characters that we all know and love, try to do something creative with them, and still ends up doing nothing at all. I won’t make any judgements about the play just based on this movie, but I can tell you that I certainly won’t be seeking it out after watching this.