D: Rob Marshall. W: James Lapine. DP: Dion Beebe. Starring: Meryl Streep/Emily Blunt/James Corden/Johnny Depp/Anna Kendrick/Chris Pine/Lilla Crawford/Tracey Ullman/Daniel Huttlestone/Christine Baranski/Billy Magnussen/Mackenzie Mauzy/Lucy Punch/Tammy Blanchard. (Based on Stephen Sondheim’s 1987 musical of the same name)
The musical genre has been struggling for a comeback for the last decade. Since 2002’s Oscar winning Chicago, filmmakers and studios have been chasing that same success. Yes 2008’s Mamma Mia made the big bucks, but 2012’s Les Miserables dragged us through three hours of labor and drama. Into the Woods joins a difficult cannon, but I am happy to say it does its Broadway mother justice.
Director Rob Marshall, responsible for both 2009’s Nine and Chicago, is clearly in his element here. Cinematographer Dion Beebe (Edge of Tomorrow) is at his aid again, they worked on both previous musicals together. The pair give space to their actors and thankfully, do not let the camera linger on reaction shots. The entire film has a fantastic sense of space and gives magic to its story without abandoning all realism.
There is definitely a bit of Disney gloss happening here. With a PG rating it is implied that the darker elements of the musical would be toned down, especially with the implications of the Wolf’s song, ‘Hello Little Girl.’ However, Johnny Depp is delicious as The Wolf and the Rat Pack vibe the song is given is simply pure fun. The deaths are also moved off screen and certain story lines are nipped and tucked to clearly fit this ratings margin. By no means is Into the Woods a disappointment for it, but it does change the overall palette of the project, especially the humor. Mostly this is aggravating as regardless, the film to me, is still for adults.
There is also some merging of characters, omissions of songs, and the on stage narrator now is serviced through the Baker’s (James Corden) voiceover. Luckily this voiceover does not inhibit the pacing of the film, though one or two times it feels repetitive. Despite all that Into the Woods pulls stellar performances out of the entire ensemble. The standouts are of course Meryl Streep’s Witch whose costumes (supremely done by Colleen Atwood) and make up merely enhance a fun, dynamic delivery. Chris Pine as Cinderella’s Prince oozes glorious giggle inducing charm with his duet with Rapuzel’s Prince (Billy Magnussen) a highlight, as it is in the show. I am very sad the reprise was cut. The youngsters Lilla Crawford and Daniel Huttlestone are excellent and hold their own with big solos. Emily Blunt’s Baker’s wife is great opposite Corden and Anna Kendrick does well as Cinderella, singing in a very difficult key. Lucy Punch steals a huge laugh as one of Cinderella’s step sisters, still waiting for someone to give her a bigger shot.
Into the Woods is overall an enjoyable addition to the musical genre. The first half is definitely stronger than the second, as it is in the show, but James Lapine adapts his work well. Stephen Sondheim’s music and lyrics actually works well on screen as his walk and sings balance the big numbers with character development. And what happens after ‘ever after’ is so on trend right now its ridiculous. But as a musical lover I couldn’t stop smiling and that is a beautiful thing.