Few movies delight, confuse, and disturb the audience as well as Into the Woods. Directed by Rob Marshall (director of Chicago and Nine) and based on Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Tony-award winning Broadway musical of the same name, Into the Woods takes the bizarre and beloved production and turns it into an equally bizarre movie that will be beloved by few.
Taking place in the world of Grimm’s fairy tales, a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) are cursed by a witch (Meryl Streep) who forbids them to have the child they have been wanting unless they acquire a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold. Put two and two together on that.
With an incredible story like that, how can this movie be underwhelming? Easy.
The rules of broadway are very different to the rules of cinema. A movie can’t have 7+ main characters along with a dozen or so supporting ones. It makes for an unfocused and jam-packed film. Throwing in the singing makes for an overwhelming experience. Maybe keeping the main focus on the baker and his wife while shortening up the screen time of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Jack, etc. would make for a better film.
Yes, Into the Woods does have to adapt the musical in its entirety, but pulling from the source material is only 50% of the battle. Translating the source material into a coherent film is the other 50%, and Into the Woods doesn’t do the best job of doing so.
This becomes extremely apparent in the second half of the film. The movie feels like it’s over and boom, you’re only halfway there and the movie feels a half hour longer than it was. Adapting the musical in its entirety is important, but making it feel like a film is equally essential.
By the way, Into the Woods’ second act is a huge surprise. Fans of the musical will see it coming but it’s jarring if this is your first time experiencing the story. It will turn an unbelievable amount of people off so get ready (I personally dug it for the most part).
Aside from that, Rob Marshall and his cast and crew do a tremendous job. With a cast filled with familiar faces like James Corden, Emily Blunt, Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Johnny Depp, and a wonderful cast of lesser known actors, everybody does a stellar job. All of the singing is superb and the acting is equally terrific. Corden, Blunt, and Streep are the real standouts here.
Behind the camera, Dion Beebe’s cinematography is exceptional and the production design, costumes, and visual effects are all A+ material.
Despite a terrific cast and behind-the-scenes crew, Rob Marshall’s Into the Woods doesn’t feel like the movie it thinks it is. The broadway production was so well-adapted, it will leave movie theater audiences lost in the woods.