Movie review: ‘Into the Woods’
INTO THE WOODS
Starring Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Christine Baranski, Tracey Ullman, Johnny Depp, Lilla Crawford, Daniel Huttlestone, Billy Magnussen, MacKenzie Mauzy, Tammy Blanchard, Lucy Punch, Frances de la Tour, Simon Russell Beale
Rated PG, Fantasy, 125 minutes
“Into the Woods” is a hodgepodge that examines alternative, but equally improbable, endings to fairy tales other than “happily every after.”
Grimm’s tales, first published in 1812 by German brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, frequently recounted calamities befalling children who disobeyed their elders. Their stories are object lessons, sparse in sentimentality and familiar to most Westerners.
Adapted from an 1987 Broadway musical starring Bernadette Peters, this movie focuses on the mixture of both joyous and tragic events that define our lives.
The first half of the movie introduces a menagerie of characters; a childless baker and his barren wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), his mother (Tracey Ullman), Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy), Billy Magnussen as her prince and Meryl Streep as the witch you can’t quite hate because she wears her vulnerability on her sleeve. Selling her musical numbers with expert emoting, body language and marvelous inflection, Streep’s gnarled conjurer offers the baker and his wife a child of their own, provided they gather four items she requires in order to reverse the curse that has stolen her beauty.
After recounting the highlights of “Cinderella,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Rapunzel” and “Little Red Riding Hood,” the story goes on to depict the difficulties befalling these characters as one by one they fall prey to tragedy or loss. Problems arose for me from the inorganic plotting necessary to ruin the contentment of some and with the story’s sudden shift from lightheartedness to one of doom and gloom.
While sections of Stephen Soundheim’s songs are haunting, pretty or both, none of his tunes are singable, and nearly all are densely packed with too many concepts and exposition.
Johnny Depp is notably pressed into service as a fawning wolf, while Chris Pine, portraying Cinderella’s philandering prince, struts and preens with his princely brother in one of the film’s more entrancing numbers, a duet entitled “Agony.” Sadly, several important numbers have been cut to reduce the film’s overlong runtime.
Emily Blunt’s baker’s wife and Kendrick’s Cinderella vie for the film’s most relatable heroine. Both women are vocal mavens, but Blunt edges out Kendrick when conveying a woman’s desire to be the master of her own fate.
The off-screen occurrence of several scenes of death or extreme peril may irritate adults and confuse the youngest ones, whom are likely to find this entire enterprise incomprehensible, as well as lacking the entertaining action sequences needed to distract from its many faults. Most disappointing to me, a female giant (chiefly by her huge feet) is never seen in her entirety and shyly hides behind the trees while bellowing her demands.
Yes, sometimes directors, in this case Rob Marshall, don’t see the forest for the trees.