Film Review: Into the Woods

Roughly 800 movies were released on Christmas Day and I was determined to see the only one that really, truly interested me.  Unfortunately American Sniper wasn’t playing anywhere in my city so here’s a review of Into the Woods.  (Yes, I am bitter but no I will not be taking it out on another movie just because it wasn’t what I wanted.)

For those of you who have somehow avoided seeing the trailers that have been playing on repeat since May, Into the Woods is loosely based on multiple fairy tales and is an adaptation of a musical that premiered in 1986.  It is also a giant, sprawling mess of a story but one that is mostly saved by being a musical.

The plot is such: A baker (James Cordon) and his wife (Emily Blunt) cannot have children.  The neighbor, a witch (Meryl Streep) offers them a chance to gather certain things for her and in return she will lift a curse that has kept the couple barren.  They have three days to get the required ingredients and they must venture into ‘The Woods’ to do so.  Unfortunately none of the ingredients are simple like ‘a wild mushroom’ or ‘a twig.’  No, they’re things such as ‘a cloak as red as blood’ and ‘a cow as white as snow.’

This ensures that the baker and his wife will run into fairytale characters like Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford),  Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) and her Prince Charming (Chris Pine).  I give Disney credit for prioritizing singing abilities over star power (I’m looking at you, Les Miserables).  Everyone in the film can belt out a good tune, but a special nod goes to Lilla Crawford who not only has the best voice, she also gets the best lines.

As a movie it’s a bit of a slog, clocking in at just over two hours.  There is a whole lot of interwoven plot that has to unfold and a lot of time is used to set everything up and bring the separate characters together.  Then once the story seems settled we get another ‘act’ that completely changes the tone of the film.  Honestly it feels like two movies smushed together.

It’s obvious that this was once a stage play because you can see where Act 1, Act 2, etc occur.  One issue I have with the movie is the sheer length of the final third.  It just drags on.  Part of this is the fault of the music.  A lot of the songs in the beginning are fun, upbeat, or exciting.  Towards the later part of the film almost every song becomes painfully maudlin or downright depressing.

The movie is gorgeous, though, and the acting ranges from good to great.  When people disparage the film they won’t be commenting on any individual actors or songs, they’ll mention how boring too much of it was.  (Unless they’re talking about Johnny Depp’s Wolf, because his song is creepy and wrong.)

I’m all for being true to the source material but sometimes less is more.