I went to see Into the Woods this past weekend, and one of the things that struck me as really funny was how few people actually knew that it was originally a stage production. Granted, it hasn’t been in the spotlight for a while (it premiered in the late 80s), but since I’d always known of it as part of the theatre culture, it surprised me to learn that others were not aware of this fact. Perhaps it could have been made more clear in the trailers leading up to the movie’s release.
“Into the Woods, based on the original Broadway musical!”
So, for those of my readers who don’t know, Into the Woods is a modern twist on the beloved Brother’s Grimm fairy tales in a musical format. It follows the classic tales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel- all tied together by an original story involving a baker and his wife, their wish to begin a family, and their interaction with the witch who has put a curse on them. This movie adaptation of the original stage production stars, Anna Kendrick as Cinderella, Meryl Streep as the Witch, Chris Pine as Prince Charming, Johnny Depp as the Wolf, James Cordon as the baker, and Emily Blunt as the baker’s wife.
And now for my review:
There were many times during the movie that the acting was exaggerated, even a little bit flamboyant. That comes from the theatricality inherent in an adaptation such as this, something that I don’t think people quite understood. In one particular scene – the two princes’ rendition of the song “Agony” – the theatre’s reaction was laughter. It’s a rather hilarious song to begin with, but the director certainly played it up with half open shirts, dramatic dancing, and waterfall scenery. (This was all compounded, of course, by the fact that Chris Pine cannot really sing.) However, had people understood the stage to screen transition, I think that they would have liked it more. Mostly they just found it hilarious.
Another difficult stage to screen change was the lack of intermission. Stage productions often take a short break in the middle of the show, just twenty minutes or so to allow for costume changes, a glass of water for the actors, etc., but what it really does is separate the slower parts of the storyline. While the movie was only just over 2 hours long, it really did almost need an intermission to get through the slower parts of the plot. There were a few concealed yawns around the midway point.
One thing I did absolutely love were the costumes! The design team did a fantastic job creating a ball gown with golden shoes for Cinderella, and the Witch’s post-transition fitted dress was spectacular. I loved all the details and I’m not the least bit surprised that the movie was nominated for a Costume Design Oscar. I hope they get it.
And of course, I must talk about the singing. Anna Kendrick and Meryl Streep both had prior experience with musical movies; Kendrick for Pitch Perfect and Streep for the adaptation of Mama Mia. Both women performed excellently as singers and actresses. Johnny Depp also had singing experience from his performance in Amelie, but I’ll be the first to admit that his 10 minutes of screen time as the Wolf and his one musical number were rather uninspired. I expected more from an actor of his caliber. I was, however, pleasantly surprised to learn that Emily Blunt and James Cordon could sing. I’d had no occasion to hear them before and really enjoyed both of their performances. I’d also like to give a hats off to Lilla Crawford and Daniel Huttlestone, the two young singers who played Red Riding Hood and Jack. I expect we’ll be seeing much more of them in the future.
Overall I thought the adaptation was brilliantly done. It was true to the story, well costumed, and supported by a (mostly) great cast of singers. However I do think that this adaptation is better enjoyed by those with some familiarity of the stage production and would suggest a quick YouTube search for clips before buying a ticket.