INTO THE WOODS
By Gary Murray
Starring Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt and Anna Kendrick
Written by James Lapine
Based on the musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine
Directed by Rob Marshall
Running time 124 min
MPAA Rating PG
Selig Film Rating Matinee
Over the years, the musical has made a large comeback. Chicago, Sweeny Todd and Jersey Boys have all gone from the Great White Way to the local movie house. Some have been massively successful such as Dreamgirls and some have had less success. The latest to try and make the jump is the star-studded Stephen Sondheim musical experience Into the Woods.
The very cleaver little story is about a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt). They are childless but very much wish to have a baby. They find out that a curse has been placed on them by the local witch (Meryl Streep). She informs them about the curse and how it can lifted if they secure four items. Those items are a white cow, a red cape, golden hair and a single slipper.
It just so happens at the same time Jack of Bean stock fame (Daniel Huttlestone), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) and Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) are all a part of the woods. Each has an agenda about being in the woods and each wants to keep their items.
The baker and his wife con and charm items; lose them and get them back. It is a merry little adventure that twists the elements of the Grim Fairy Tales to the point that they almost become Fractured Fairy Tales. The first half of Into the Woods is one of the greatest musical experiences of the year.
The biggest show-stopping moment happens with Chris Pine and Billy Magnuson as our two princes who pine in song for their lady loves. It becomes an over the top moment of the first act with the two hams in silk wallowing for the women they profess to love. One gets the feeling that they only love themselves more.
The film truly falls apart in the second act after the wedding of Cinderella. All of the elements of the first part are pulled together in the second to what is to be the big finale. The problem is that it just doesn’t pay off. As much as the audience loved the first of Into the Woods, they seemed to hate the climax. All of the good will that builds between the audience and the production is eventually wasted.
Another aspect of the production that is just an irritant is the lack of lighting. The characters are supposed to be in the woods but even the woods have bright spots. At times, it is so dark that it almost becomes impossible to see what is going on the screen.
The reason to go see Into the Woods are truly to marvel at the voices of the females in the cast. Everyone knows that Anna Kendrick can sing since she had a big pop single but the true find is how great Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt are at Stephen Sondheim musical compositions. One would swear that they are all Broadway singers and not actresses doing musical theater. This should get Meryl yet another nod from the Academy.
In the secondary cast, young Lilla Crawford steals just about every moment with her reading of Little Red Riding Hood. Her scene with Johnny Depp as the Big Bad Wolf is a bit creepy and a bit too much like a child predator. Lilla’s scenes with the cast just jump off the screen. Truly, she is the one who deserves a Supporting Actress nod.
The music is all wonderful and the costumes perfection. This is a high-concept musical experience with all the little elements in place. It just needed Rob Marshall to step up and direct the film. He directed Nine and Chicago, so he should know what the heck he’s doing. This is his weakest effort as a musical theater cinema director.
Into the Woods is a good movie, just not a great one. It tries too hard and doesn’t succeed like one would hope. It is more of a gallant effort than a musical masterpiece.