MOVIE REVIEW: Into the Woods

James Corden, who I did not really know, is the breakout star of Into the Woods.

Somehow, I had managed never to have seen any iteration of the popular stage musical Into the Woods, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. despite the fact that it played on Broadway in 1987, and has been produced many times, including “a 1988 US national tour, a 1991 television production, a 1997 tenth anniversary concert, and a 2002 Broadway revival,” among others. The Wife and The Daughter saw a production at the local theater, Steamer No. 10 a couple years back.
into the woods
As for the movie version, which the three of saw at the Spectrum on the first Sunday of 2015:
“The musical intertwines the plots of several Brothers Grimm fairy tales and follows them to explore the consequences of the characters’ wishes and quests.” The main characters are taken from stories of:
Little Red Riding Hood – Lilla Crawford (the Annie on Broadway in 2012-2014), with Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean) as the Wolf
Jack and the Beanstalk – Daniel Huttlestone (the movie Les Misérables), with Tracey Ullman as Jack’s mother
Rapunzel – Mackenzie Mauzy, with Billy Magnussen as her prince
Cinderella – Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air), with Christine Baranski (TV’s The Good Wife, the movie Chicago) as her stepmother, Tammy Blanchard, and Lucy Punch as her stepsisters, and Chris Pine (new Star Trek movies) as her prince

There’s a framing story involving a baker (James Corden, who’ll be replacing Craig Ferguson on a late-night talk show), his wife (Emily Blunt from The Devil Wears Prada) with Meryl Streep (also The Devil Wears Prada, now that I think of it, and a whole lot more) as the witch who has a curse on the couple. They need to gather items associated with the other four stories.

It’s all good fun. The singing is strong. Corden, who I did not really know, is the breakout star. Pine and Magnussen have a duet, Agony, that is just a hoot. The Baker’s Wife is perhaps the key character, and Blunt is strong here. Many observers, including the Wife, thought that Red Riding Hood was annoying and the Wolf creepy, but I thought that was what they were supposed to be. Jack is much more likable, and he’s a thief.

They mostly live happily ever after, and apparently, that’s how Act 1 of the musical ends. I heard this story of the out-of-town tryouts for the theatrical production, with composer Stephen Sondheim literally running out to the parking lot telling patrons that the show was not over.

Act 2 is somewhat darker. This is epitomized in a terrific song called “Your Fault”, which I HAVE seen performed on TV – perhaps on the Tonys some years back? I understand a movie is necessarily truncated from its source material. Since it’s a Disney movie – and marketed so heavily on its channels that the Daughter wanted to see the film more than I – thematic elements have been removed. Obviously, I can’t comment on what I’d not seen, but the solution as presented worked for me. And while it had “some suggestive material,” the Daughter was fine with it all.

In other words, I liked it quite a bit, though it dragged, briefly, in places. Interesting that at Rotten Tomatoes, the audience liked it less than the critics. Some, I imagine, are Sondheim purists. Critic Leonard Maltin says that this movie adaptation of a Broadway show actually IMPROVED on the original.

Let’s face it, you either buy into the notion of people breaking into song on a regular basis, or you don’t. Somehow it flowed very well here, perhaps in part because there was the narration, by the Baker, to break it up. Also, it was so fantasy-laden, the singing seemed less jarring than, say, in Sondheim’s West Side Story – which I love – but which is more based in reality.

Pictures: top, l-r, Kendrick, Corden, Streep, Huttlestone, Ullman, Mauzy; bottom, l-r, Pine, Blunt, Depp, Crawford, Baranski, Magnussen.