Into the Woods Reviews
The integration of characters from multiple fairy tales is an intriguing concept and while the film starts off in amusing fashion, it loses its moxie. The jumps between characters and story arcs is mediocre at best, while plot details are lacking as the story pushes forward in time to get through its tale in 2 hours. The film's content is also more mature and dark than a family friendly atmosphere. A PG rating is too generous.
80-90% is singing. Even when musical numbers are not taking place, character dialogue is being sung. Fortunately, there are some catchy tunes that sink into the brain, but there are equally as much tiresome vocals exiting the speakers.
The female leads are the highlight. Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, and Anna Kendrick liven the picture, when the blandness of James Corden and Chris Pine step on the stage.
Into the Woods has some journey-full moments; just not enough to make it an exciting trek into the woods.
All the performers give such impressive turns that I feel like I have to comment on every one of them because it's really a well-cast ensemble. Emily Blunt is the definite stand-out, being probably the only one of the cast who consistently acted intentions while singing, making the Baker's Wife a funnier character than I previously thought with her charmingly flushed comic relief.
Anna Kendrick is, as usual, a musical dynamo with her high and bright Broadway-rafters voice, and Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen steal the show in "Agony" with their princely posturing. Tracey Ullman plays Jack's Mother with cantankerous mettle, and James Corden is quite plucky as the hapless Baker. Tammy Blanchard, Lucy Punch, and Christine Baranski also make a nasty and daffy step-trio. Mackenzie Mauzy as Rapunzel is actually given more to do here than she is given as the good-woman mother on "Forever."
I'm not a fan of the children's songs or characters, but Lilla Crawford has some pipes and decent comic timing, while Gavroche kid enunciates too oddly for my taste. Meryl Streep is a trifle slow with the "greens" tongue twisters, and while she does belt some meaty notes later, I'm not sure how much of her vibrato was added in post-production. I didn't think that voice came out of the same woman who did "Mamma Mia"...
Soundheim's original play is good because it questions fairy tale morality, revealing that the violence and sexuality inherent in most fairy tales is simplistic. Disney has made numerous changes to the story, all of them bad, all of them to the detriment of Soundheim's original point. When the characters question whether or not to kill the giant, their conundrum is glossed over and the decision is made because ... reasons. And this doesn't occur until the third act of the film. The first two acts added nothing to my understanding of fairy stories, and with the exception of Red Riding Hood, finally portrayed as a sexual awakening, the stories unfold just as you might think they would.
Meryl Streep is fantastic, displaying pipes I never thought she had, and the two princes induced laughs from the rest of the audience, but the rest of the performances were fine at best.
Overall, I wonder how good this could have been had the Mouse House been willing to take a few risks.
The pacing is unbalanced leading to an awkward story flow and climatic revelations play out in a rather static fashion due to the way staging works in theater.
The film works best when the characters come to grips with themselves and their identity, but these scenes are boring to watch since they tend to be exposition conversations between characters.
The musical numbers are entertaining enough, the actors are brilliant and put a lot of energy into the work but alas, watching a play to be adapted into an incompatible medium is just sheer... AAAAGGGGOOOOOONNNNNYYYYY