INTO THE WOODS Movie Review
When taking into consideration the intentions that Disney had of adapting the dark broadway musical Into The Woods for a family friendly feature film, Stephen Sondheim’s original vision becoming botched in the process was obviously going to be inevitable and therefore I was in no way surprised about the vast changes that were made to secure an appeal to as wide of an audience as possible. What did in fact surprise me was that despite the taming and trimming of the source material, for most of Into The Wood’s running time there is a vibrant and entertaining musical with wonderful singing and an often clever approach to maintain some of the violent, dark and sexual oriented subject matter from the original show in subtle ways and not offend the sensitive parents and younger audience which this film is also aiming to appeal.
Not since the excellent film adaptation of West Side Story has Sondheim’s musical numbers caught fire on film the way they’re supposed to, but after the atrocious vocal arrangements of Tim Burton’s misguided adaptation of Sweeney Todd there’s a much welcome surprise of musical talent pulsating in this film. James Lapine’s screenplay translation of his own musical book takes liberties with musical numbers and even trims some of the remaining songs down. Characters are removed or combined and grisly fates are changed or implied but the first 90 minutes of Into The Woods boasts contagious energy and whimsy that flows at an engaging pace until crashing into the tedious and dour final act.
Not much heavy lifting is required from Rob Marshall’s directorial efforts as choreography is minimal and Jonathan Tunick’s pulsating orchestral arrangements and Dion Beebe’s exuberant cinematography enhance Dennis Gassner’s (Skyfall) imaginative production design, bringing everything together with urgency and enthusiasm. Highlights among the cast are Emily Blunt, who brings out an eagerness and desperation in Baker’s Wife and a pleasant surprise is Chris Pine’s portrayal of Cinderella’s Prince, he really seems to understand the humor behind the character and has some great musical pipes as well.
The musical number “Agony” that he performs with Rapunzel’s Prince (Billy Magnussen) is a hilarious and catchy showstopper that utilizes physical comedy from both performers and gives them both their moments to shine, it’s one of the best moments in the film. It’s no secret that Anna Kendrick has vocal talent and natural charm but her heart doesn’t appear to be entirely in her portrayal of Cinderella, her character’s arc doesn’t warrant much empathy or interest as it should and doesn’t command as much interest as the other characters around her.
The casting of young Lilla Crawford as Little Red Riding Hood and Daniel Huttlestone as Jack were obviously creative choices to tone down the sexual explicitness that originally was essential to these characters and when the mugging annoyance of Johnny Depp briefly appears on screen as his Tex Avery inspired Wolf, his performance of “Hello Little Girl” does comes across as awkward as well as the downplayed sexual subtext that follows.
After one story arc concludes and another subplot awakens, the pace and tone of Into The Woods becomes a bit of a mess. So much of the source material’s tragic and violent conclusions have been removed or condensed into an incoherent and unsatisfying turn of events that stops the film’s exuberance dead in it’s tracks and begins to drag on for eternity. Until this film reaches that point, there’s so much to enjoy that it’s impossible not to reccommend and even though Rob Marshall’s film was never going to attempt to translate this broadway musical the way it was originally concieved, Into The Woods is still an overall enjoyable experience with wonderful songs and some great performances.