By: Anthony Zangrillo
Into the Woods brings the Tony Award-winning musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine to the big screen this holiday season. Directed by Rob Marshall (Chicago), this feature has ensembled one of the most star-studded casts of any film this year. This film boasts the talents of Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Tracey Ullman, Johnny Depp, and even that kid from Les Miserables. Even though Into the Woods shines in its spectacular musical and acting performances, the overall narrative falls short, mixing an uneven pace with somewhat perplexing tones.
The film is set in an alternate universe, where the main characters of some of the most popular Grimm fairytales collide. The audience is introduced to the Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt), who are desperately trying to have a baby. One day the Witch (Meryl Streep) comes into their bakery and informs them of the curse that she placed on the Baker’s family after his father stole some magical beans from her garden. The Baker and his wife agree to retrieve a few items for the witch in exchange for the restored ability to have a child. The items include the cloak worn by Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), a cow toted by Jack (from Jack and the Beanstalk, played by Daniel Huttlestone), hair as yellow as corn (which will obviously involve Rapunzel played by Mackenzie Mauzy), and a golden slipper (involving Cinderella played by the ever-amusing Anna Kendrick). The main characters all enter the woods and what happens next is straight out of a storybook.
The film awkwardly blends whimsy, darkness, fantasy, and death without exploring the moral quandaries of these serious issues. This creative mix results in a stark contrast which was able to balance the heavy-handed tones of a dark and foreboding loss with satire at the absurdity of these fairytale situations. Ultimately, the outstanding performances from the cast really drive this film. Without a doubt, Meryl Streep completely stole the show, and she deserves the Golden Globe nomination for her performance, making critics, like myself, thankfully forget her performance in Mamma Mia! Emily Blunt and Anna Kendrick both shine in their respective roles as strong female leads. Chris Pine gives a good performance as the dimwitted, charming, yet not sincere Prince. In fact, Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen’s studly, Fabio-esque rendition of ‘Agony’ will cause the entire theater to burst out in laughter at the princes’ narcissistic absurdity. Johnny Depp’s brief cameo as the Wolf seems to be ripped straight out of Tim Burton film. Depp is creepy but entertaining in his small amount of screen time. However, Lilla Crawford appears too young to fully grasp the sexual under-tones that accompany the awkward musical number between her and Depp.
Aside from the production value, performances, and musical numbers, the story ultimately falls flat. In the end, Into the Woods gives much to take in, but little to hold on to. Many of the jokes felt forced and out of place. Despite the wonderful cast, audiences will likely not feel attached to the main characters, rendering them disposable. Personally, I found myself absent of any attachment or feeling towards the titular characters, even in one of the pivotal points of the film, where the lives of the main characters were at stake. The film grazes over several important deaths, treating these losses as mere plot points rather than truly tragic results of the characters’ misfortunes. Finally, despite its frantic pace, the film felt too long, most likely a result of the interplay of too many intersecting storylines. Having not seen the original musical, I can only speculate on the differences between the two. I believe that fans of the musical will emphatically enjoy this film, while other moviegoers will be in awe at the performances, but likely feel more perplexed at the overall plot of the movie they just witnessed . Overall, I recommend Into the Woods.