Into the Woods
Full of A-List celebrities, non-stop Stephen Sondheim songs, and beautiful set pieces, Into the Woods is sure to entertain children and adults, alike. While the plot is a bit chaotic at times, the music is terrific and the cast is so committed to the fantasy world around them that the issues in the film are fairly easily forgiven.
Based on the Tony Award-winning musical of the same name, Into the Woods combines Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and several other well-known fairy tale characters into a hodgepodge of musical storybook madness. A witch (played with conviction by Meryl Streep) promises to lift a curse that has left a baker and his wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt) childless, as long as the two procure several items that the witch requests so that she may be young and beautiful again. It is on this quest that the many stories converge, as all of the characters, all on their own fairytale-specific journeys, venture into the woods.
The music of Into the Woods is phenomenal, as the actors do some truly great things with Stephen Sondheim’s music and lyrics. The opening number is remarkable, setting up the different characters and highlighting the gorgeous production design. The music flows from voice to voice, sweeping about and setting the tone for the rest of the film. Some of the songs stand out and are sure to be stuck in your head for the week after you see the movie, including “Agony” as performed by Chris Pine in the memorable role of Cinderella’s Prince, and the aforementioned rendition of “Into the Woods”, performed by most of the main cast.
The cast as a whole is great (if not exactly ethnically diverse), but there are some standout performances. Meryl Streep is obviously amazing as the Witch and Chris Pine is laugh-out-loud funny as the charming but oblivious Prince. Daniel Huttlestone, previously known only from the 2012 adaptation of Les Misérables, is perfectly cast as Jack, as is Lilla Crawford as Little Red Riding Hood. James Corden does a fine job, as well, as the Baker, who is the heart and soul of the film. Additionally, Johnny Depp gives a brief but quite memorable (and quite creepy) performance as the Wolf.
While the film is paced well and moves rapidly, the plot is still a bit of a chaotic mess. However, it works, primarily because the characters are such well-defined archetypes that it ends up not being that confusing to jump from storyline to storyline, from song to song. The film also, in effect, has a false ending, where everything is wrapped up, and then when it turns out that one of the subplots is not wrapped up as neatly as you think, the story picks back up and continues for another 30 minutes or so. While this is part of the story and essential to the film as a commentary on fairytale endings, it does disrupt the flow a bit.
Into the Woods delivers exactly what you would hope for: great music, entertaining performances, and beautifully grand scenery. It is escapism at its finest, and appeals to audiences of all ages—the film actually seems to be aimed at adults, while never alienating its younger viewers. It’s worth viewing on the big screen for the spectacle of it all, and make sure to check out the excellent soundtrack, as well.
Movie Review by Mike Danner