Into The Woods
Are we out of the woods yet?
Watching Into The Woods is like taking a pleasant stroll, preferably through the woods, then realizing halfway through that you are hopelessly, irredeemably lost. And being hunted by an annoying giant. At least the first half of the movie was fun, and the entire run time is packed with consistently strong musical numbers from a fun and varied cast. However, a combination of strange plotting from the original musical and director Rob Marshall seemingly running out of steam in the second act makes the movie less than the massive family holiday event it could have been.
Adapted to the big screen by original playwright James Lapine, the film has quite a few plotlines, but starts out with a baker and his wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt) venturing into the woods to collect various items and lift a curse that a witch (Meryl Streep) cast on their house. Other fairytales happen to be passing through, like Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) on the way to that ball she’s always been obsessed with; Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) looking to sell his dying cow for some money and/or magic beans; and Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) on her way to visit her grandma, because that’s all she does. The bakers begin their plunder, as each fairytale holds an item they need.
They only have three days to get the required items, and the difficulty mounts as each fairytales’ own stories complicate as well, and Meryl Streep keeps jumping out at them from bushes. Along the way the characters learn a plethora of unclear life lessons like overcoming fears, growing up and probably love, but it’s all so muddled you can take your pick at which one the musical is actually supposed to be about. Oh yeah, and Johnny Depp shows up for a few minutes.
The cast and story are sprawling, but most characters get a chance to shine. Streep glides between a jarring, screeching witch and a surprisingly genuine mother figure to Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy), who is in the movie too by the way. Streep’s solo ‘Stay With Me,’ performed when the yellow-haired princess dreams of escape (she’s in that same old tower the witch locked her in) serves as one of the finer musical moments of the film.
Corden and Blunt harmonize well in both dialogue and song, making their cliché relationship (she’s in charge and he’s out to prove himself) compelling, and moments like their duet ‘It Takes Two’ all the sweeter. Speaking of duets, Billy Magnussen and Chris Pine (yeah that’s right, the Star Trek guy) both play princes to Rapunzel and Cinderella, and sound great on their over-the-top cheese-off ‘Agony’ about loving someone they barely even met.
Younger stars Huttlestone and Crawford also sound great, though perhaps Crawford could have sung more and spoke less to tone down her never-ending adorable kid antics. Her story is quick and over in a few scenes, just like Depp’s role as the wolf hunting her and her grannie, and how the actual movie should have been. If the fake-out ending that played about halfway through the film had been real, I would have left the theater satisfied.
Unfortunately, someone certain (and I mean that to be intentionally ambiguous, because not even the characters can figure out whose fault it is in ‘Your Fault’) left out the magic beans, and a giantess enters the woods to seek revenge for something that apparently happened off screen, and things go gray when Marshall attempts to implement action sequences. Streep urges Rapunzel to stay with her through thick and thin, but I’d rather have left the theater.