Review contains mild spoilers.
Synopsis: A witch tasks a childless baker and his wife with procuring magical items from classic fairy tales to reverse the curse put on their family tree. (Synopsis from IMDb)
Review: Captain Kirk sings. While draped over a waterfall and tearing off his shirt. If that does not sell the movie, I do not know what will. Just kidding, there are plenty of reasons to love this movie. Though Chris Pine’s turn as Prince Charming is a highlight. Into the Woods is the cinematic version of the Tony Award winning play written by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. The play debuted on Broadway in 1987 and has been revived several times. This particular play borrows heavily from the original Brother Grimm fairy tales and questions the consequences of getting a wish. Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Cinderella, and Jack and the Beanstalk serve as the main characters. All these storylines are woven around the quest of the childless Baker and his wife as they set out to break The Witch’s curse. Most of the action occurs in an enchanted wood, which causes everyone to lose their way, both literally and figuratively. All the characters face a moral or ethical dilemma throughout the narrative.
The cinematic adaptation only carries a PG rating, so a majority of the violence/adult themes from the stage version are absent. All the deaths occur off-screen. On one hand, this makes the movie family friendly and appealing to a wider audience. But it also dilutes the message of the narrative, be careful what you wish for because it may end badly. I would have preferred a PG-13 rating so the narrative could retain some grittiness. The Brothers Grimm fairy tales are not pleasant, they were meant to serve as a reminder about consequences and the pitfalls of bad morals/ethics. Sondheim used these fairytales to write a musical containing nuanced life lessons. The cinematic version glossed over most of this nuance to create a more sanitized narrative. One major change is the tone of The Wolf’s song was altered to be less catchy. This is because the lyrics strongly hint at pedophilia and is wildly inappropriate for a “family-friendly” movie.
Perhaps the best part of Into the Woods is the singing. Surprise, a musical with good music. Though my mother, brother, and best friend did not think the music was great because none of the songs were sing-along able. So I am apparently in the minority. Most of the cast possess excellent voices, so most of the songs flow quite well. A couple of the actors spoke in tune instead of singing, but this only occurred a couple of times and is not glaring. If you watched 2012’s Les Miserables, then you will recognize Daniel Huttlestone (Jack). He played Gavroche in that film and his voice has slightly matured since then. Anna Kendrick does well as always, there is a reason she keeps getting cast in musical movies. And Chris Pine has a surprisingly good singing voice. I would have loved more screen time from Pine and Billy Magnussen, they were the highlight of the film.
Acting wise, I though the film was expertly cast. However, while Meryl Streep put in a solid performance as The Witch, I wish she had gone a little more over-the-top. At times she came across rather tame and The Witch is supposedly holding all these characters fate in her hands. A tad more crazy would have made The Witch phenomenal instead of just good. Christine Baranski was wasted as Cinderella’s Evil Step-Mother, she barely has five minutes of screen time. Emily Blunt and James Corden carried the film nicely. However, the scene between Emily Blunt and Chris Pine was awkwardly executed and this slightly derailed the narrative. Mackenzie Mauzy (Rapunzel) and Billy Magnussen were underutilized, I would have liked more of them and less of Jack’s mother. Otherwise, most of the acting was great.
The cinematography is alright, I have certainly seen worse. But I do not think the Giantess sequence was done well, it felt overly pieced together. At least the woods looked really creepy. The narrative explores death, infidelity, and disillusionment. As such, the scenery/cinematography depicts a grey and slightly colorless world. If the Grimm fairytale characters ever came to life, this is probably what they would look like. The movies tagline is: Be Careful What You Wish For. And the narrative pounds this point home at every turn. Let’s just say that no one really gets their “happy” ending. Well except for Rapunzel since her fate was cut out of the cinematic version.
The plot moves quite swiftly, though this hinders any chance of character development. In the play, Prince Charming and Rapunzel’s Prince are fleshed out a bit better. Actually none of the characters are well developed in the film, they all just kind of exist. This is the greatest weakness of the film. There are just too many characters and the narrative is overly condensed. So no one character really stands out as truly fantastic, everyone is underdeveloped together. However, I still think Into the Woods is a solid musical film adaption. Then again, I am a huge fan of fractured fairytales and was ecstatic that some form of the Grimm fairy tales made it to the big screen. I am still waiting for a cinematic adaptation of the Grimm version of Cinderella. I think I will be waiting for a long time.