Rob Marshall is no stranger to directing a Broadway stage show turned live action movie, having directed Best Picture winner, Chicago in 2003. Going back to his musical roots and taking a stab at Stephen Sondheim’s 1986 stage classic, Into The Woods. For anyone not familiar with the show it has a very simple story: Many different fairy tale characters inhabit the same world and each gets lost in the woods searching for his or her own personal want or need. All the being orchestrated by an evil witch with her own plan. Thus all the stories come to head together though beautiful direction, amazing acting and wonderful singing which gave way to a very enjoyable movie.
Set in an alternate world of the various Grimm Fairy Tales: Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel and Cinderella as well as established others from many tales from our youth. A baker and his wife learn the witch next door has cursed them to lead a childless life. So to reverse the curse they must embark on an adventure into the woods seeking certain objects required to break the spell on their house. What begins, as a lively irreverent fantasy musical eventually becomes a meaningful tale about responsibility, the problems and consequences that come from wishes, and the legacy that we leave our children.
This is a massive ensemble cast of some of he best actors working today. Lead by two-time Academy Awarding Meryl Streep as the Witch. Emily Blunt and James Corden play the Baker and his wife, Anna Kendrink and Chris Pine as Cinderella and Prince Charmming. Rounding out he cast is Christine Baranski as the evil stepmother, Tracey Ullman as Jack’s mother and an odd cameo by Johnny Depp as The Wolf.
First off this was an entertaining flick, mostly due to the direction of Rob Marshall. He has the unique ability to make a stage show movie look like a movie but still keeping that Broadway feel and look. Major props to the production team for making some of the most amazing and beautiful sets. Each is alive with color no matter how dark or warm the set is. The woodland set looks so real you expect small animals to live there and come out at any moment. And when the movie moves outside into the real world the movie fits perfectly into those settings seamlessly. Production wise this a flawless movie with very little to complain about.
Now fans of the 1986 show may have some issues, Disney, which produced and distributed the film, did make some changes to the script to fit into more a “Disney” style and for time. Certain characters in the show may die or have an “unhappy” ending. Here in the movie the filmmakers just make simple changes to allow storylines a different path. It doesn’t hurt the movie in anyway, but hardcore fans will complain, because that’s what they do. That can’t be helped. So if you are a hardcore fan of the show, make peace with that it isn’t the stage show before you see it.
There are certain characters choices by either the actors or by the director that don’t work, Depp’s wolf for example. Or the surprise of Chris Pine’s singing. Well start with the elephant in the room, which is Johnny Depp. He is in a different movie all together. His look and general vibe he gives off doesn’t work here. He dressed like some absurd Tex Avery wolf cartoon character from the 1930s: Zoot, suit, big hat, belt chain to the ground, etc. He not only looks stupid, but the outfit doesn’t even go with the look of the rest of the flick. We get why he dressed the way he is, you understand what he trying to do, but man, does it look foolish and you just feel sorry for him on his “talk-singing” ability. He is the worst portrayal in the movie for sure.
A surprise was Chris Pine’s singing a duet with his brother the other prince, Billy Magnussen. The scene is where they met by a river and they compare the misery of their newfound and unobtainable loves in the song “Agony”. Now, Pine doesn’t have a great voice, he can carry a tune, but just only. But Marshall manages to use this to Pine’s advantage. But having him “ham-up” the humor in the song, you as the audience focus on how fun the song is rather how it’s not being sung all that great. And that’s how you make a musical work with people who aren’t the best singers. Just one more great decision made my Marshall.
But at the end of the day it’s all about Meryl. She is of course perfect. As if there was ever any doubt. She demands you to watch her every movie. Her look with the wig and make-up effects just adds to her performance. She comes in like a wreaking ball and destroys every scene she’s in. An only real issue is when she became young and beautiful at one point in the movie, she looks more like a drag queen rather than young. A little less digital effects of her face could have been better used. Sometimes less is more, but really, seeing the movie just for her is worth it.
All the actors are just as good. Emily Blunt is fantastic as the Baker’s Wife and Anna Kendrick’s performance as she is leaving one of her slippers as a clue to her prince, in the song “On the Steps of the Palace”, is done so well that you believe she can do no wrong. Daniel Huttlestone portrayal as Jack is also one of the stand out in the movie, but he also was one of the stands out in 2012 musical Les Misérables, in the role of Gavroche. This kid is just going to get better with age, as does everyone though too. The talent bursting from this movie is really worth checking out never the less how you feel about musicals.
Special effects also are worth mentioning, as the movie is filled with so many of them, and they all work fantastically in the film. Each CGI effect looks real and has been given the all the money to make it look real and fake. The way The Witch uses her magic to teleport is fun, Cinderella becoming the beautiful version for the ball, to the giant that wreaks havoc on the people are some of the better ones that stick out. But over the entire movie effect are great and really do make you feel like your living in a world of magic.
The music is the same as in the show. Simple changes in the arrangements have been made depending on who’s singing and what their range is. But most of the songs stay pretty true to the original that fans of the show have come to expect. Some songs have been taken out and replaced with dialogue or no longer fit into the story because of time and whatnot, but whatever missing isn’t missed and doesn’t make the movie any less enjoyable.
At the end of the day this is a fun movie that many people can enjoy. Fans of the show can appreciate what was being done and non-fans of the show can just enjoy a solid musical movie staring incredible actors singing and enjoying themselves. There really is something magical about this flick. Not being the major audience for this type of film, so to find it so enjoyable was a nice surprise. So for Christmas if you must leave your house because family has gotten ya down, go spend sometime in the magic of Into The Woods.