In the late 1980’s, Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” premiered on Broadway. In 1991, it was produced for television. On a personal level, I first saw it on a local stage in 1991 and fell head over heels. However, the Bernedette Peters version will always be the ultimate production.
The news that this show was being made into a musical film was both thrilling and terrifying. Especially the casting news. True, there was a nice mix of broadway performers in the cast, but no Bernedette? The wolf not being a wolf? Heck, the wolf not being played by Prince Charming? These are things that just can’t be.
And don’t be fooled by the poor advertising campaign- this is a musical. Singing and dancing abounds! Though if you don’t know the title, the commercials do not do a good job of letting audiences know this.
So… obviously, it was with a wary heart the film was seen.
To begin with, overall the film sits between a solid B and a solid B-. It was good, not great. The first complaint comes that when moving the camera, it was done almost too quickly and the picture blurs. What is the point of being able to produce super high definition picture if the whole thing is blurry? The wedding season (the end of Act 1), for example, is almost completely ruined because the camera pans so quickly that no faces or details can be made out. A minor gripe but still…
Let’s move on to casting- while I initially had reservations about the casting of Meryl Streep, the sheer fun she appeared to have in the role cancelled that out. She’s no Bernedette, but she did a damn fine job as the witch. I hope for many bloopers on the DVD of her laughing at herself. The Baker and his wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt) were lovely. Though he lost a scene that was given to her, and the quick pace of act 1, followed by the slow down in act 2, left the audience not able to fully sympathize with him at the end.
Divert to the left for a moment- the pacing was strange. Several songs and moments were cut- except for one, I am mostly alright with this. However, due to the cuts the tempo of the acts changed. It’s all Go Go Go! in act 1, and then jumbled in act 2. Director Rob Marshall made some interesting choices. I don’t necessary agree with them. But I digress…
Tracey Ullman as Jack’s mother was fabulous. Wish the character was bigger but she serves a few moments of motivation throughout, and Tracey did a good job with her. Speaking of Jack… I’ve always seen him be slightly older. So it was strange to have him be played by an adolescent. Daniel Huttlestone did a fine job as the daft lad. Lilla Crawford (Little Red Riding Hood) had moments of perfect snarky delivery and others where she didn’t quite grasp the tweenish attitude that was required. Anna Kendrick as Cinderella was a delightful mix of sweet and spark, carried a tune nicely, and both looked like the ingenue and someone who could face down her husband. Speaking of the prince… Chris Pine as Charming and Billy Magnussen as Rapunzel’s prince created possibly my most favorite thing ever- their performance for the delightful duet, “Agony” had tears streaming down my face. It must be seen for the shirt ripping atop the waterfall alone.
The role of the Old Man is absolutely a throw away now as the character shows up once in flashback and once possibly as a ghost. Wherein the stage show uses the character as narrator and he pops up throughout the scavenger hunt to pester The Baker and his Wife. The step family were fabulously over the top. And the wolf… well, they could have tried to make him more like a child molester, but really all they needed to add was a windowless van… Apparently, the others in my party did not see this and felt that his portrayal was not nearly as bad as they had feared. The costume was dreadful. I still don’t understand why he had to be more humanized in a world that clearly had magic- there was a zombie cow! But Johnny Depp was fine. I guess.
Can we talk about “Agony” again? The reprise in act 2 was cut (it damn well better exist on the DVD!) and this is a shame because the Princes had wonderful chemistry and clearly had a lot of fun with the song. Would’ve loved to hear them sing about cheating on their wives. And don’t tell me it was cut due to its adult content! The actual adultery scene, along with the witch singing about how the old man robbed and raped her (metaphorically speaking!) by stealing the beans, were left in… obviously, the cut of the second song means that the two characters it introduces don’t need to exist but still… a waste.
Also, the whole twin storyline for Rapunzel is thrown out the window. This is obviously because the entirety of the film takes place in a weeks time, no more than that. Things are sped up and this, unfortunately, cuts down on the audiences connection to some of the characters. Why couldn’t they show the passage of time? Sure the scavenger hunt takes three nights, but there should be time between that and the second half of the story!
The take away is this- I liked it, I did not love it. Would I see it again? Probably. Heck, I’ll buy the DVD just for “Agony”. Mrowr!
(And I won’t even mention how Chris Pine was channeling William Shatner…)(Oops!)