Starring Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Johnny Depp. Directed by Rob Marshall. (2014, 125 min). Disney
While watching Rob Marshall’s Into the Woods (adapted from the popular Broadway musical), I came away with three thoughts (well...two thoughts and one now-confirmed suspicion):
First, even though no one expected Meryl Streep to win this year’s Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (which would have provided a trophy for every room in her house), she certainly deserved the nomination. Completely disappearing into a character is a skill few actors have. But doing the same thing while belting out musically, narratively and emotionally complex songs? Hell, Streep totally has this down.
Second, as good as Streep is, never in my life did I expect to see a movie completely stolen by the likes of Chris Pine. As Cinderella’s Prince Charming, he’s not in the film nearly enough, but when he does show up, he brings the perfect combination of arrogance and goofiness without resorting to heavy-handed farce. His satirical duet with Billy Magnusson (as Rapunzel’s prince) is a strong candidate for the funniest musical number I’ve ever seen in a film.
Finally, stick a fork in Johnny Depp. He’s done. His make-up-heavy, over-the-top, quasi-perverse schtick was stale several films ago. Here, even though his appearance as The Big Bad Wolf is a glorified cameo, it’s such blatant stunt casting (“Oh, look…it’s Johnny Depp...again”) that it temporarily sucks the viewer completely out of the story. Not only that, his “wolf” make-up is clichéd and terrible, totally contrary to every other character in the film, all of whom are more-or-less presented as plausible (even Streep when dolled-up as The Witch). The whole scene even looks like something lifted out of a Tim Burton film.
Aside from the Depp debacle, Into the Woods is, for the most part, really entertaining. It starts off with a bang with an extended musical montage that introduces all the major storybook figures almost entirely in-song. This is where we meet Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Jack (who trades his beloved cow for magic beans). Then there’s The Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt), arguably the main characters. They can't have children due to a witch’s curse unless they can venture into the woods to find four items (each possessed by the aforementioned fairy tale characters). These first 25 minutes are truly awesome…a medley (with many reprises) which manages to establish their personalities and subsequent conflict with just a few verses. It is the technical and musical highlight of the entire movie.
As these characters’ lives intertwine to focus on the plot (which has the widow of a giant, who Jack killed, seeking revenge), the film settles into a more conventional narrative, punctuated by the occasional musical number, most of which are pretty good, but none which top the satiric torch song belted out with superficial sincerity by the two aforementioned handsome princes.
As with many pure musicals, viewer interest might pique and wane (depending on one’s appreciation of the genre), especially since the film goes on longer than it should and turns unnecessarily melancholy toward the end. But for the most part, Into the Woods is an unabashedly brash good time.
- Featurettes: “The Cast as Good as Gold” (brief interviews with primary cast); “Deeper into the Woods” (four making-of short features)
- “She’ll Be Back” (a deleted musical number performed by Meryl Streep which, in my opinion, should have been kept in the film)
- Music & Lyrics (which allows the viewer to skip straight to the musical numbers)
- Audio commentary
- Digital download