‘Into The Woods’ Review
Who doesn’t love a great big fairy-tale crossover?
I was actually looking forward to this one a lot despite having never seen the original stage version. Then I remembered the last time this happened and my excitement dimmed a bit. Most other critics I follow seemed to reach a general “good but not great” consensus regarding the whole thing. It may be a case of lowered expectations, but it found myself pleasantly surprised.
The story follows a Baker and his wife, who despite their best efforts are unable to bare any children. Luckily for them, (or perhaps not), the reason for their infertility reveals itself to be the Witch next door, who placed a curse on the house many years ago. To reverse the curse, and restore her own beauty, the Witch requires an assortment of iconic items. The couple find themselves heading into the Woods, leading to quite a few hijinx and eventually some rather worse consequences.
One thing I really appreciate about this movie is the way it successfully juggles it’s tone. For a majority of the story, hardly a single scene goes by without something really funny happening, whether it be through dialogue, slapstick, or just the actors’ delivery. All of the character are entertaining and if there’s one thing I can appreciate its a movie that can keep a consistent amount of levity without being annoying.
I had actually heard about how dark this movie gets toward the end, and while the last third or so has a pretty heavy undercurrent of tension (and some plot developments are bound to make you feel at least a little uncomfortable), the story as a whole actually maintained a consistent feeling of levity. I’m led to believe this is widely the result of changes in the adaptation, and while I can understand why someone would have problems with said changes, I can’t bring myself to find fault in a movie that ultimately leaves me feeling pretty good inside.
With that said, the third act is a bit of a detriment in that it has one or two pretty big plot niggles that, while not distracting as I was watching, really should have been explained or at least acknowledged. Some things that happen (or alternatively don’t happen) may seriously bother you, so be prepared for that.
Out of the whole adult cast, James Corden is likely among the least known, which is why it didn’t surprise me at all just how much the advertising downplayed his role (methought as someone who’s shown up twice on Doctor Who I was bound to recognize hime). With that said, he is the main protagonist and in my eyes he does a pretty good job carrying the story. I’ve seen quite a few people display outright dislike for Corden, and while I’ve never agreed with it there are occasions in each of his DW appearances where he could go really over the top in his comedic delivery. With that said, I think I like him more in this movie en I do in anything else. He’s one of those actors that always conveys a lot of genuine emotion and here is no exception.
Side-by-side with Corden is Emily Blunt as the Baker’s wife. Blunt is someone who I have actually have way less experience with than Corden despite her much larger amount of exposure. With that said, this performance alone is enough to make me really like her. She and Corden have a lot of chemistry, both comedically and otherwise. Blunt’s performance is even enough to make me rather enjoy one scene in the third act that for all intents and purposes could’ve been removed.
Meryl Streep plays the Witch who gets the whole plot going, and is sort-of-but-not-really the antagonist for the first two acts. Like he film as a whole, Streep juggles goofy and heartfelt rather well, and though the Witch can be a bit of a ham, she’s also the only one who really knows what’s what for much of the movie. Without spoiling too much, one of those disappointing aspects I mentioned earlier has to do with her exit from the story. While that’s a really cool scene to watch, it also lacks a sense of closure.
Joining them in the main circle of characters are Anna Kendrick, Lilla Crawford, and Daniel Huttlestone as Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack, respectively. I find them all just as likable and fun to watch.
On an acting level, the supporting cast is just as good as the mains, though I personally think most of the films problems could have been solved by giving them more screentime. To my understanding, Mackenzie Mauzy as Rapunzel, along with the princes played by Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen had a lot more material in the play, and it’s absence is notable as like the Witch they each leave the story in weird ways. With that said, there are some really good scenes with each of them still present, so I can’t really complain too much.
And yes, I do find it laughably ironic that this is the role were Chris Pine decides to channel William Shatner.
As far as effects go, there’s little for me to nitpick over. The staging is quite like that of a play, though not in a way that’s distracting. Really, the biggest problem I have is that the scenes are shot in a way that can be way too dark at times.
This being a musical, however, the numbers take precedence over the visuals. With that said, there’s not a single song here I dislike. I know quite a few were cut in the transition to the screen, but what remains is even at its worst a joy to watch and listen to. I see myself untying the inevitable knots in my tongue for a while after trying to sing these to myself. Streep in particular gets a few opportunities to seriously bust out the pipes.
I also find it awkwardly hilarious how both of the minors have a song alluding to sexual awakening of some kind and no I am not even kidding.
Though this movie definitely has some problems that may or may not be present in the original, I don’t agree with the idea that the third act is a complete letdown like many seem to think. It wouldn’t take more than a single rewrite to fix the present issues, and even with them present, the films cast, sense of humor and infectious energy is more than enough for me to both enjoy and wholeheartedly recommend it.