INTO THE WOODS (2014)
The problem with musicals today is that they are stuck in the mentality of the ‘Golden Age’. What I mean is that there has been a certain way to stage this genre and not much has changed since the dawn of the talkies. The awkwardness of setting up a number, the elaborate ways to adapt it, and then the final awkwardness of ending the story has stayed the same. It is a formula that most do not pay attention to and for Director Rob Marshall that is a good thing. After adapting Chicago for the big screen, and winning some Oscars, he is looking to stay the course with his next musical adaption with Into the Woods.
What makes Into the Woods a fantastic musical is how Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine were able to twist several tales from the Brothers Grimm into an original concept. It makes perfect sense wanting to adapt this because there are so many bombastic characters and catchy songs to make it commercial. What works in this adaptation is how some of the key figures are casted perfectly. Meryl Streep as the Witch is absolutely fantastic throughout. She literally arrives with a bang and with her aura on screen & incredible singing voice she practically steals the movie. But coming right up behind is Emily Blunt who continues her earlier success of 2014 (Edge of Tomorrow) by showing her versatility as an actress and singer. In fact most of the female side of the cast were the highlights including Anna Kendrick as Cinderella, Tracey Ullman as Jack’s Mother, and even Lilla Crawford continues her dominance in musical adaptations as Little Red Riding Hood.
Unfortunately this adaptation is bogged down by some other, more problematic casting and story decisions. With the former there are some actors who, while charismatic, should not be involved with singing. Chris Pine might look the part as Prince Charming but his awkward, William Shatner-like cadence does not work. Same goes for someone like Johnny Depp who not only looks out of place as the Wolf but his trend of being weird for the sake of weird is getting tiresome. Honestly with a little rewriting you could have gotten rid of the Wolf and avoid what is easily the worst number of the picture. But the biggest problem with this adaptation is how Disney was scared to commit to more of the bleaker elements. Do not be fooled as this film does take a dark turn as the musical but it never wants to go the extra step. Because of that some instances of certain character’s death are awkwardly staged or is just passed without much emotional pull. It also drags the picture down pace wise as song after song turns the film into a series of vignettes rather than well-crafted story.
Rob Marshall’s Into the Woods is hardly a bad movie and can be entertaining at times. It certainly does not hurt to have leads such as Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt to elevate the material. But a good half this picture seems to be miscast and get overshadowed throughout most of the picture. If a major studio like Disney could not commit to keep this film as dark in tone as intended than maybe it was for the best to not even bother adapting. Like Rob Marshall’s last film Chicago it certainly has its moments but in the long run Into the Woods will mostly be forgotten the moment you leave the theater.