I wish… that Rob Marshall would wow me like Chicago again, instead of On Stranger Tides or Nine that are the definition of pain. When the castle comes up I feel more fright than right, but in the end Into the Woods made my night. So… wish… granted!
Feeble attempt at writing lyrics aside, I’m sure glad the adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s fairytale criss-cross musical is one of Disney’s better outings of late. Once more in the year the Mouse plays with dark source material, but unlike that haphazard effort called Maleficent, Woods embraces and weaves it in naturally. Deceitful-out-of-desperation protagonists, a predator in both senses of the word and greedy characters – it’s all there!
The PG tag will no doubt upset certain audiences – especially those who appreciate the Broadway version – for preventing the mature themes from being fully explored. Certainly a disappointment, as many lie suffer and/or die in a tale of a baker couple (James Corden and Emily Blunt) trying to have a child by stealing four particular items for a witch (Meryl Streep), though with the limitations Marshall portrays them with skill. Also, since there’s care given to the content as well as the visuals here, there won’t be any case of style over substance (and broken promises) like the from-the-villain’s-POV-take on Sleeping Beauty.
Right after a dynamite opener that successfully sets the scene and captures your attention, Woods barrels forwards with energy and artistry. It’s tremendous fun seeing Streep in feral mode, hearing the gorgeous singing voices of Blunt and Kendrick, taking in the sets designed by Dennis Gassner, enjoying the scenery through Dion Beebe’s lens, admiring the costumes from Colleen Atwood, keeping up with Wyatt Smith‘s zippy editing or trying to process all of that while listening to Sondheim and Lapine’s songs. There’s definitely plenty of production value here, and the film is dying to show them all to you.
Even the younger stars – Red Riding Hood’s Lilla Crawford and Jack’s Daniel Huttlestone – are natural next to the grown-ups, especially the latter who is outstanding as Gavroche in Les Misérables. His number, “Giants in the Sky,” is among the film’s memorable ones including “Agony,” “On the Steps of the Palace,” and “Moments in the Woods.” Maybe a CD of the soundtrack is in order?
Woods does slow down when the story goes beyond the expected happily-ever-afters. While this is a wonderful way to get to the core of the material’s originality, after an hour or so being spoiled by the light-speed storytelling when we go through the tales, the film drags a little bit. Get to the end, however, and you shall be awarded with a wrap-up that feels both complete and fulfilling.
The year ends strong with fewer films that go wrong, like a trip to these woods full of vivid sights and songs. So many ways Into the Woods could’ve went astray, but since the right crew is here prepare to be swept away!
Right, time to take more writing classes.