„Into the Woods“ is an adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical of the same name. It is directed by Rob Marshall and stars a great ensemble cast with Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick and Chris Pine. The plot mixes up a bunch of different fairytales including but not limited to Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk. It connects them through our main characters, the Baker (Corden) and his wife (Blunt), who are sent on a quest by the Witch (Streep) to alleviate a curse that she placed on them.
First of all, I am glad to do something I have not had much reason to in recent years, I get to praise Johnny Depp for a performance. Depp plays only a small role as the big bad wolf, but he fits in perfectly, reminding the audience of his performance in “Sweeney Todd”, which was probably the last time he’s been really good in anything. He only gets one song with Little Red Riding Hood, played by Lilla Crawford, but damn do they make something of it. We all know the story, but “Into the Woods” puts a particular undertone to it, that I won’t spoil if you can’t guess it, and Depp and Crawford play off each other perfectly.
That, of course, is only a very minor part in a movie that runs for two hours. However, there is no reason to worry, as the rest of the cast give performances that are on par or better. They pull off the singing very well, complete with some intentionally hilarious performances by Chris Pine, who reminds me a bit of Nathan Fillion as Captain Hammer in “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” (And if you haven’t seen that… it’s only 40 minutes, I’ll be waiting). I don’t want to talk about everyone, but a few cast members deserve special recognition. James Corden and Emily Blunt have great chemistry and since “Looper” and “Edge of Tomorrow”, I just can’t help but be excited every time Emily Blunt is in a movie. They both have serious singing chops, which Corden was already able to demonstrate in this year’s “Begin Again”, another wonderful movie. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody by now that Anna Kendrick can sing, seeing as she is already gearing up for her next musical performance with “Pitch Perfect 2”, and her indecisive rendition of Cinderella is fun to watch.
Oh yeah, and Meryl Streep is in this movie. With this film in the bag, she’s probably only one movie away from her twentieth Academy Award nomination. From everything I had seen in the trailers before seeing the film, I was sceptical if the Witch was a role that deserved an Oscar nomination or if the Academy just stopped looking after they saw Patricia Arquette in “Boyhood”. I was wrong. The Witch is such a cool character, and Meryl Streep is the best actress on the planet, which results in a memorable performance. She is menacing, funny, smart, loving and angry. That’s tough to pull off, but she is such a joy to watch. Also her first song is a rap… so let that sink in for a moment.
I should mention quickly that this film looks amazing. I was particularly impressed by the fact that Marshall decided not to overuse CGI to make a huge spectacle of the bigger events in the musical. He concentrates on the characters and the music. And that is where this films true strength lies. Stephen Sondheim is Musical royalty. In “Into the Woods”, he created a subversive take on fairy tales and manages to be funny and convey an important message at the same time. The stage version is split into two parts, a dichotomy that is still there in the film version. However, large parts of the second half are cut out of the film, which is unfortunate, because this is where the piece becomes really intelligent. The film still works and the message is intact, however the last thirty minutes of the film feel slightly disjointed because of this.
In conclusion, I can only quote the Witch and say “Go to the Woods!” This is a very smart and entertaining film. Be aware that there comes a point in this film where you might think that it will end soon. That is the end of the first half of the original musical. You still have about half an hour to go, so don’t get impatient. If you can manage that, you’ll get to enjoy the best songs in the whole movie… except for “Agony”, nothing beats that.