“Stay a child while you can be a child.”
Based on the stage musical written and composed by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods has been adapted to the big screen by Rob Marshall without losing its stagy feel to it. Marshall has had success with musicals in the past (Annie, Chicago), but he also had his misses (Nine), so this wasn’t something new for him. Into the Woods seemed to have an interesting premise considering it mashes up several familiar children stories (Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Little Red Riding Hood) and gives it a twist. I went into this film knowing nothing at all about the popular stage play so I won’t be comparing it to the original material. What I can say however is that the film is rather predictable during the first hour and it all of a sudden takes a darker twist during the last forty minutes. That twist should have been the most interesting part of the film, but I actually ended up enjoying the first half of the film much more despite the predictable story. When the film felt like it was wrapping up at about 80 minutes (which would’ve been a perfect running time for me) it decided to go on and that is where I felt the story drag and found myself checking my watch every five minutes. The twist didn’t work at all and didn’t have the effect I expected it to. I understood what the story was trying to do by sort of focusing on what actually happens after the happily ever after but it never goes anywhere with that premise in this adaptation. They either shouldn’t have included that final act or they should’ve made it much darker, but since this is a Disney production aimed towards children they couldn’t actually do so. I would’ve enjoyed Into the Woods more if it ended when it seemed to do so, but those final forty minutes were unbearable.
The performances and the music are the highlight of this film. Despite not having many catchy songs they are all well performed and sometimes they even overlapped with each other during some scenes. The composition was actually pretty complicated, but it was effective. The cast in this film is amazing. Having Meryl Streep in the titular role as a witch was the best decision that the executives made for Into the Woods. She delivers, but it is Emily Blunt who steals the movie. She is great in this film. Other strong performances from Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Tracey Ullman, and Chris Pine elevate the material. They all have great singing voices and there are some memorable moments as well (Anna Kendrick singing a very difficult song as she is running away from the Prince and Pine singing “Agony” and delivering a rare funny moment). I didn’t really enjoy the performance from the kids played by Daniel Huttlestone and Lilla Crawford. Crawford never convinces as Red Riding Hood and she does have an important role in this film. Johnny Depp doesn’t get much screen time, but he doesn’t stand out either as the Wolf. The performances and the set design are the best thing about Into the Woods, but the story really hurt it and I wasn’t a fan.