INTO THE WOODS
**1/2 (out of 5)
December 25, 2014
Anna Kendrick as CINDERELLA
Daniel Huttlestone as JACK
James Corden as BAKER
Emily Blunt as BAKER’S WIFE
Christine Baranski as STEPMOTHER
Tammy Blanchard as FLORINDA
Lucy Punch as LUCINDA
Tracey Ullman as JACK’S MOTHER
Lilla Crawford as LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD
Meryl Streep as WITCH
Directed by: Rob Marshall
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
While I was watching “Into the Woods,” I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had seen this all before. After all, the concept of twisting around alternate and mash-up versions of fairy tales is all the rage. You have “Wicked” on Broadway, “Once Upon a Time” on ABC and movies out that include “Snow White and the Huntsman,” “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,” “Jack the Giant Slayer” and “Maleficent.”
However, when speaking of “Into the Woods,” it’s important to remember that this was one of the first of this breed. Based on the 1987 Broadway musical by Stephen Sondheim, “Into the Woods” plays a lot like “The Giver” did earlier this year. In the case of “The Giver,” it seemed that we had seen all of it before with films like “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent.” However, “The Giver” pre-dated these other sources by decades. Similarly, “Into the Woods” feels fiercely derivative, but I don’t blame the film for taking this long to get made and getting scooped by other stories.
Still, I can fault it for how half-baked it seems to be. By now, the fractured fairy tale mash-up is pretty much its own subgenre, so the unrefined nature of “Into the Woods” seems entirely reasonable by today’s comparison.
The movie throws together as many fairy tale elements as seemingly possible – Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, a wicked witch, Prince Charming, giants and Little Red Riding Hood to name a few. In this sense, it plays like a curtain call that tries to cram too many things into one movie. I can imaging watching this thing on Broadway in the 1980s and feeling excited to see everyone I heard about as a child show up in the performance.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t entirely work. Like many stage productions brought to the big screen, there’s something lost in the translation. Broadway is Broadway, and cinema is cinema. They have similar connective tissue, but they don’t always work the same way. Stage productions are about the presentation and the songs. Movies are (at least we hope they are) more about the characters and what they do when faced with challenging situations. This is why the unfortunate lack of story and character development is more glaring on the big screen.
There are some great elements to the film, however. The production design and the costumes are pretty impressive, as is the cast as a whole. There’s a certain joy that any red-blooded American male can have to see Emily Blunt and Anna Kendrick share the screen. And even though I’m not a huge fan of Meryl Streep, she fully commits to the wicked witch, making it one of the more fun performances in the whole piece. (I like to joke that she’s playing Johnny Depp in this movie because of the level of quirky commitment, but since Depp plays another character here, it’s a bit confusing.)
Ultimately, “Into the Woods” is a musical for fans of musicals. It’s very Broadway, and it’s almost wall-to-wall songs. Additionally, where the acts are broken out very naturally in terms of presentation on the stage, they seem choppy and jarring in the context of a film.
If you love musicals and adore Sondheim’s work, you’ll likely love “Into the Woods.” However, if you’re not looking for the Broadway-on-screen experience, this is one to skip.