Into the Woods – Review

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Starring: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Daniel Huttlestone, Lilia Crawford, Tracey Ullman, Billy Magnussen, Mackensie Mauzy and Johnny Depp
Based on the Musical written by: James Lapine & Stephen Sondheim
Adapted for the Screen by: James Lapine
Directed by: Rob Marshall
IMDb Score: 6.1
Metacritic Score: 69
Nominated for 3 Academy Awards including Best Supporting Actress (Meryl Streep), Best Costume Design and  Best Production Design
One of the Top Ten Movies for 2014 by the American Film Institute

Rated PG for thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material.

If you’ve had to sit through a student run play in Middle School or High School, odds are you’ve come across the play “Into the Woods”. I know I did, and I only remember one thing from that time: the girls in the theatre troupe were pretty damn attractive (I was in High School, after all). Other than that, all I remember was a mish-mash of all these Grimm fairy tale characters that were in one play while I was trying to figure out who was the cute girl who was in the dance number that jumped around a lot.

What I am trying to say is this: I knew of the story, but I didn’t know the story very well.

In comes Rob Marshall’s (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha) adaptation of the classic play. Of course, Marshall swung and hit big with his last adaptation of a classic play, but whiffed big in his last musical (Nine). Where does Marshall’s latest fall?

Into the Woods starts out with a story of a baker (Corden) and his wife (Blunt) getting an offer to release a curse from his family from a witch (Streep). Bring Little Red Riding Hood’s (Crawford) Hood, Jack’s (Huttlestone) white as snow cow, Cinderella’s (Kendrick) golden slipper and a lock from Rapunzel’s (Mauzy) hair to her in three midnights during the blue moon and the witch will release their curse. But more than just this happens when these characters delve deep into the woods.

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As it always needs to be said before hand: Into the Woods is a musical-ass-musical. So, if you can’t stand to watch a movie where the cast is in song 50 – 70% of the time, close this review and be sure to note that you shouldn’t bother watching this.

With that in mind, Into the Woods seems to be a competent adaptation of the play. Not stellar, not horrible, just competent. Gauging the exact problems are difficult: the movie isn’t really flawed in its execution. In fact, the execution of how the film is shot and scored is spotless.

It really comes down to performances and Into the Woods has the same problem most movies with a big cast of notable actors has: some are great, some are okay, some are just unnecessary. What becomes the movies potential big problem is where it chooses to center the film on which characters and you just sit there wishing you could see more of others than of some.

Before we go into the cast, it must be said that the film looks fantastic. The movie has this whimsical look that is light and effervescent; it actually looks like a Disney animated musical come to life, which is an astounding compliment. The film is full of color and bombast, but it’s the right amount that doesn’t make the film feel forced.

This is also a testament to Rob Marshall’s direction, which may be his best movie since Chicago. The movie is shot exquisitely, with all sorts of different angles that add drama and shot selections that give this film its vibrancy. His direction provides the right amount of light heartedness, dark tones and the right amount of whimsy to give this movie a joyous film to look at.

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Now, you may have noticed that I haven’t talked about a key thing in musicals: the music. The music itself is great, which should come as no surprise as this is a Lapine and Sondheim musical.

Here’s the thing, though: Rob Marshall’s direction when it comes to musicals is to have the actors sing and to use as little production as possible. This gives the actors a more natural sound when the film is completed; it’s supposed to make the actors look and sound more genuine.

Here’s the thing: It’s kind of hit and miss with the cast.

I’d hate to really put it down to a list of which actors worked and which didn’t, but I’ll just start with the negative actors. First off, Johnny Depp is easily the worst, due to the really weird interpretation of the Big Bad Wolf (and his creepy, pedophile like song). It’s also the briefest of the appearances in this movie, but it certainly stuck out like a sore thumb.

Next, Chris Pine can sure play charming, but he feels really off in this film. The accent he pulls in the movie is off and, honestly, so is his delivery overall. There is a way to pull off charm and chauvinism, but he really couldn’t do that and sing a decent song.

Finally, Meryl Streep is merely okay as the witch and unfortunately, she’s most of the film. There’s no doubt that Streep has the vocals to pull off this character, but her performance seems restrained and boring. In fact, Streep looks like the most misused asset in this film, followed by Tracey Ullman.

Going on the positive side, the two child actors, Daniel Huttlestone (Jack) and Lilia Crawford (Little Red), are very charming and likable. Both seem to have talent in their roles and they provide cute performances on both ends.

Emily Blunt and James Corden, playing the Baker and his Wife, are very good in their roles. They really bounce off of each other in a great way and do a great job on their songs. Blunt, however, is the better of the two, with her grounded wit and oft-times hilarious physical comedy.

The highlight of the film, however, is Anna Kendrick. Kendrick’s performance as Cinderella is easily the most charming and likable character in this movie: So much so that I wished they took this Cinderella and made a movie solely out of her. Her singing is excellent and every scene she’s in is easily the highlight of the film, everywhere from her initial appearance to her singing number on the steps of the castle. Simply put: I loved Anna Kendrick in this movie.

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In the end, Into the Woods is simply a movie that has its ups and downs, but it is a good musical for musical fans nonetheless. Kendrick, Blunt and Corden are the highlights of the film, as well as the excellent visuals and shot selection from Rob Marshall. However, having the main star being its weakest character and actor hurts this film, especially since Streep’s Witch is what moves the plot around.

It’s hard to call this movie a bad movie, but it’s not a great one. It has some great elements, but it’s floundered by some bad elements.

3/5 – Kendrick and Marshall’s direction are excellent; Streep and Pine drag the film down

The Wiz Says #19

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