‘Into the Woods’ Silly, Yet Still Magically Fun

by Joe Jarosz on December 24, 2014

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Solid Rock Fist Up]

Happily ever after doesn’t exist. At least not until the third act. Even then, the term happily is used very loosely.

Into the Woods, music and lyrics written by Stephen Sondheim, premiered on Broadway in 1987. I’m not a Broadway enthusiast. I know the plays and musicals I’m supposed to know, but I’d never heard of this musical before. One of my notes says, “would make a good Broadway musical” because I thought this was an original idea. Silly me to think that Hollywood would come up with something original.

Into the Woods takes audiences on a wild ride through never land, with a modern twist on a number of the fairy tales written by the Brothers Grimm. The intertwining the plots of a few choice stories explore the consequences of their wishes and conquests. The musical follows the classic tales of Cinderella and Prince Charming (Anna Kendrick and Chris Pine), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Jack and the Beanstalk (Daniel Huttlestone), and Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy) — all tied together with an original story involving a baker and his wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt) and their wish to begin a family and their interaction with the witch (Meryl Streep) who has put a curse on them.

I’ll say this, Streep is the only character’s entrance I remember. That might seem trivial, but the woman commands a scene like nobody else and when she steps in front of the camera, you notice. A few other actors stand out, as well. We know Kendrick has a beautiful voice, but she also gets quite a few laughs. The film is also a nice introduction of Corden to American audiences. Next year, he takes over for the recently departed Craig Ferguson for the CBS even talk show The Late Late Show. If he’s as affable there as he is on the screen, the move should be an easy transition for him.

Johnny Depp, on the other hand, plays the creepy Big Bad Wolf and he was the character I thought most about. If you know the story of the wolf and riding hood, Depp’s Wolf basically has one extended scene with the little girl traveling to her grandmother’s home. I have nothing against the actor’s portrayal of the character, I just wish the writer’s would have made his song a lot less icky. In this day and age of heightened child safety, I can’t imagine a parent will not feel the same way if they watch this movie with their kids. The writer’s could have tweaked the original Broadway lyrics for this song. Even Crawford’s lyrics are borderline disturbing.

As for the film, I was ready to accept the cookie-cutter ending of act two because the movie felt tight ending there. Then, something happens that I won’t spoil, but it made the third act feel forced. And it kind of looked like the actor’s thought the same thing, almost at times winking at the camera with a look saying, “yeah we know this isn’t necessary, but come on, these songs are pretty good, so we don’t want to stop just yet.”

So even though the third act gets a little silly with the story, the first two acts of Disney’s Into the Woods showcase some of the best musical talent in Hollywood and the most memorable musical numbers in recent cinematic history. And for better or worse, after you see the movie, you won’t be able to read the title without singing the film’s main song.

Joe Jarosz is a Midwest boy now living in California.

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