Once upon a time, there was word that a beloved musical was going to be making its Hollywood debut at long last. Like many my expectations were a little on the low side. Movie musicals are really difficult to pull off these days and when a property is as adored as Sondheim’s Into the Woods, the odds are stacked against it. There will always be people who aren’t going to be satisfied no matter what happens with the production. So, how did I feel about this adaptation? Well, like the show, my feelings are complicated.
Before I launch into the review itself, here’s a quick synopsis: there’s Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), a Baker (James Corden), and his wife (Emily Blunt) who all live outside of these sprawling woods. The Baker and his wife are visited by the Witch (Meryl Streep), their neighbor, who informs them that their family was cursed due to the past misdeeds of the Baker’s father. Soon enough, everyone has to wander through the woods to achieve whatever goal they’ve set for themselves. Red has to go to her grandmother’s, Jack has to sell his beloved cow, Cinderella wants to go to a party, and the Baker and his wife just want to lift the curse on their family so they can have a child. There are a lot of other things going on in the plot, but those are the major players.
Unlike many, I didn’t believe that Into the Woods would be a disaster. I had a feeling that the talented cast would do well enough to at least make it remotely entertaining. My faith was, thankfully, rewarded. Each of the cast members was marvelous in their respective roles. I even managed to get over their decision to lower the ages of Jack and Red. That said, that decision did lead to some expected unintended consequences. Well, at least I expected it. I’ll get into all of that in my final thoughts. In any event, they did a great job with their casting decisions. My particular favorite casting choice on their part was choosing Chris Pine for Cinderella’s Prince. He’s just the right kind of charming.
The cast wasn’t the only magical thing about the film. They did a fantastic job with the set. I understand that it was largely filmed on some sort of sound stage, as many films are, but there was a real sense of scale with the woods. It felt like a tangible location that you could easily visit and subsequently find yourself getting lost. Nailing the woods was definitely one of the most important things about making this movie. If the woods didn’t feel real enough or mysterious enough, you failed. Fortunately, they succeeded with that.
While I enjoyed the cast and the songs, I have to confess to a certain level of disappointment that about half the songs in this show were cut. Admittedly, I can understand why some of them were taken out for time and because some of the characters had also been cut. Within the context of the film, it didn’t make sense to have some of the more meta songs like “First Midnight” and the act finales. That said, I was disappointed to find out that we wouldn’t get to hear James Corden‘s Baker asking for “No More” or the hauntingly sad “Witch’s Lament.”
I knew that there were going to have to be some cuts for time and everything. It’s hard to take a stage show and adapt it for the silver screen, after all. I just wonder if some of those song sacrifices were worth making. Removing some of these songs somehow removed some of the emotional impact of what happens in the last act of the story.
Overall, yes, I enjoyed the movie. When my parents and I saw it, we were battling fevers but decided that we had to use the pre-purchased tickets anyway. Despite feeling like crap, we had a fun time out at the movies. That’s saying a lot, actually. It’s not the adaptation I’d have wished for, but it’s an adaptation I can live with. If the story teaches us anything, though, it’s to be careful what you wish for just in case you do get it. So, I’ll take it.
I don’t have too much in the way of final thoughts here other than just wanting to talk a bit about the awkwardness of deciding to age down Little Red Riding Hood and casting Johnny Depp as the Wolf. See, in the context of the show, Red is usually on the cusp of womanhood. Her encounter with the Wolf, for all intents and purposes, is a metaphor for the initial exploration of her sexuality. It’s a bit strange, but it totally works in the show. The whole song the Wolf sings about wanting to eat her and her grandmother makes perfect sense when viewed in that light. The original casting announcements made a lot of people feel uncomfortable. People who know the show knew that this was going to be a little awkward.
We were right.
Look, guys, despite Johnny Depp‘s best efforts to make the song about explicit cannibalism, it still came off as sounding more like a pedophile salivating over this young girl for untoward reasons. I know that’s not what they were going for, but that’s what it sounded like. Honestly, they should have kept Red the way she had been written. At least that whole sequence was mercifully short.