Meryl Streep, I’m sorry I doubted you. A (mostly) spoiler free review. Spoilers are at the bottom and in white.
As a big fan of the original musical, I was prepared to hate this movie. So prepared. Every rumor that came out about changes to the original book gave me a rage attack. The second act of “Into the Woods” is notoriously bleak and I just knew that, being Disney, they were going to sanitize the entire thing. Funny thing: they didn’t. Yes, some stuff is different. They did lighten up a few areas, but they didn’t erase the concept that maybe, just maybe, “happily ever after” isn’t the way it always works out.
The cast was fantastic. I’ll cop to openly wondering if Meryl Streep had what the role of the witch required, but she was amazing (is she ever anything else?). She even pulled off the rap. Even James Corden, arguably the cast’s weak link, manages to acquit himself nicely. Anna Kendrick (who, by the way, was nominated for a Tony Award when she was only twelve years old) shone as did Daniel Huttlestone, who was previously seen making people cry as Gavroche in last year’s blockbuster adaptation of “Les Misérables.” Emily Blunt was also fantastic. Did anyone know she could sing?
It’s a beautiful musical with an honest message. I highly recommend it to everyone. If you love fairy tales, you’ll love the way it combines the classic stories you grew up with. If you hate fairy tales, you’ll love the way it messes with them and turns them upside down. If you’ve never seen the musical, this will get you humming. A mix of upbeat, comical songs and mournful tunes that will bring a tear to your eye. What more can a musical deliver?
As far as spectacle goes, it’s a gorgeous movie. Visually, it reminded me strongly of Annie Leibovitz’s Disney Dream Portrait Series. Beautiful but dark, with an unmistakeable painterly influence. It’s weird to see the show performed in ‘real’ locations. The musical features many super fast location changes and part of the fun part in seeing a production is finding out how they’re going to fit everything on one stage and interpret “the woods.” Seeing everything set so realistically is definitely a change.
They removed some of the humor from the first act and some of the tragedy from the second act making for a more even viewing experience. In the original musical, you spend the first half laughing and singing along to jaunty tunes while the second half is just one gut punch after the next (with a few jaunty tunes). Perhaps they chose to play it this way so no one would mistake Into the Woods for something appropriate for a five year old. Let me say this clearly: it is not. They let most of the bad things from the second act happen, there’s gore, there are scary visuals, and they really don’t shy away from the pedophilia parallels in the Little Red Riding Hood story, which I totally expected them to. I don’t have kids and am pretty terrible at estimating appropriate ages for things, but I’d say this movie would be seriously upsetting for anyone under ten. The first time I saw it, it seriously upset me, and I was a teenager.
It’s not a short show and they made some cuts. “Into the Woods” fans will miss “Ever After,” “So Happy,” “No More,” and (worst of all) the reprise of “Agony.” In fact, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty don’t appear at all, which is something of a disappointment. The role of the narrator is greatly minimized and the mysterious old man barely appears at all. Everyone’s backstory loses a page or two, although if I wasn’t so familiar with the original musical, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. There wasn’t a single reference to baking accidents in the entire movie. Color me disappointed. I wish they hadn’t cut so much of the stepmother/stepsisters schtick. It’s hilarious and, with Christine Baranski as the stepmother, it would have been great. If you’re curious, here’s a spoilerific rundown of what else was changed (whited out):
The steward’s killing of Jack’s mother is now accidental (he pushes her and she hits her head) instead of him hitting her over the head in panic. As previously mentioned, there is no Snow White or Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel actually manages to survive the movie. She and her prince ride off shortly after the giant shows up. So maybe they get their happily after after all. Cinderella’s Prince doesn’t end up with Sleeping Beauty, but he does leave Cinderella just like in the musical. “Into the Woods” makes it pretty clear that the Baker’s Wife and the Prince have sex, but it’s kept to kissing in the movie. Adults should be easily able to make the leap, but the implication is a little more subtle. Also, for what it’s worth, Cinderella’s father is dead, although as far as details go, that’s pretty inconsequential.
three and a half out of four midnights
sunbunny, who knows all the words to “On the Steps of the Palace”