Movie Review: Into the Woods

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I’m certain I’ve said it here before when I reviewed the Shakespeare in the Park version of Into the Woods, but the Sondheim musical is my all-time favorite. I love the story, but mostly I love how it works on multiple levels. When I first saw the original Broadway production, I was seven years old. It was my first trip to Broadway and I was completely in awe of the fairy tale I saw before me. Little Red Ridinghood was my favorite character at the time, mostly because she was a kid with a cool solo (though in reality Danielle Ferland, who played her in the original production was at least seventeen when I saw it). As I got older and learned how to analyze, the lyrics started to resonate with me: they started to really mean something. Cinderella, the Baker’s Wife and the Witch all became my favorite characters, depending on my mood, because of their complexities. I also began to realize that Into the Woods in, in fact, a rather complex story about the consequences of getting everything you want, and the woods a metaphor for life, basically.

When I heard they were making a movie version of Into the Woods, I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. It was DISNEY. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking Disney – love Disney movies, love Disney World, etc. – but they have this certain quality that I didn’t think would work with the dark nature of much of the show. At one point, I had heard that my favorite song from the show – “Moments in the Woods,” sung by the Baker’s Wife – was cut, however that turned out to be completely unfounded. There were SOME cuts to the songs, but none that offended by Into the Woods-purist self, even though I think the story would’be benefitted from some, particularly the Baker’s “No More” which I think would’ve developed his character just a little bit more.

First off, the costumes are brilliant and beautiful. I’m going to avoid discussing them here as I want to devote a whole post to them on their own. But to sum up? Colleen Atwood – my new costuming hero.

But let’s get down to the movie. Overall, it was wonderful. Initially I had wondered how the camera work was going to happen given that multiple character groups are in three different locations but it flowed more or less seamlessly, though I found a few of the transitions a little jarring and quick. However, knowing how the story and staging of Into the Woods works, I can forgive this.

Emily Blunt was charming as the Baker’s Wife, and I had to begrudgingly admit that I really like her despite the fact that she stole my fictional soulmate John Krasinski from me (yup, old habits die hard and I still love Jim Halpert). I’ve heard critiques that her casting was entirely wrong, but I thought she was great as the Baker’s Wife and I really felt that she got the nuances of the character down. Of the characters, I felt she was the most developed as far as personality and character growth. I wish I could say the same about Anna Kendrick. I didn’t dislike her exactly, but I felt that Cinderella wasn’t developed properly as a character – her indecisiveness read as nonchalance to me, and she just seemed too modern in the otherwise fairy tale world. The Baker was good, Chris Pine was pretty funny as the Prince (and they went all out on “Agony” which I really, really hope was meant to be as satirical as it looked!). But Meryl Streep? Well let’s quote Cam from Modern Family and say, “Meryl Streep could play Batman and it would be the right choice.” She was awesome – and handled the tough Witch’s songs amazingly well. Despite not being a singer, she makes up for it by being able to act the hell out of them!

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One major change they also made was to actually cast kids as Red and Jack. This actually threw me off a bit – in my head Jack’s character is a man-child who still lives at home with him mom and is a little dim witted. By casting a kid, he’s just… well, a kid. Not a bad kid, but I much preferred my vision of Jack as a near adult, completely stilted and naive with a cow for a best friend. When you cast him as a kid, this doesn’t seem remotely odd – he’s a kid without a limited education who happens to love his pet. Red Ridinghood, played by Lilla Crawford (which I have to say was a MUCH better choice than the original – Sophia Grace, the kid who appears on Ellen all the time), was quite good in her portrayal of Red as a spunky girl who manages to thieve her way through the Baker’s shop, but then falters when her whole world falls apart. To me, Red has always been a child – even in the stage productions when she was played by someone older.

My major criticism is Johnny Depp as the Wolf. I was already annoyed when I heard that the Wolf and the Prince was not going to be a double-cast role. In the musical, it’s representative of the animal side of the Prince’s personality and to show that his charm can have a whole other side to it – cause let’s face it, the Wolf has to be somewhat charming as well, in order to worm his way into the affections of his prey. However, even with that casting decision aside, what the hell Johnny Depp? I just didn’t get his character AT ALL. Not to mention the fact that, if you’re NOT going to double-case, the Wolf role is almost secondary. Yes, he moves Red’s plot forward but they made such a big deal out of Johnny Depp playing him I almost thought they were going to add to his storyline. As it was, he was just exceptionally creepy and skeevy and I hate to say this, almost pointless. They could’ve just cast a nobody and it would’be been completely fine. Seriously. All Johnny Depp fans will probably unite now to burn me at the stake, but he was pretty useless in this movie.

However, despite the small changes and the somewhat underdeveloped characters, I was really happy with the movie. I knew going in, much like when they adapt my favorite books into movies, that there would need to be some differences between the source material and the film. The essence of the woods was still there, and the meaning behind quite a lot of the show’s undertones still came through – though perhaps not quite as fiercely as in the stage production (this was meant to be family-friendly, after all). I am glad to be able to say that I loved the movie, and will definitely be adding it to my own collection once it’s available to purchase.

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