Rob Marshall’s film is an adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim scored musical re-imagines everyone’s favorite fairy tales and mashes them all together. The result might seem messy, and it is a bit here and there, but I was surprised by how well it does work over most of the runtime. The film’s back half also does a pretty good job of flipping all of the tales on their head as it rightfully questions the sugar-coated nature of all of these stories. Pulling in Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Prince Charmings (2 of them) and Jack with the beanstalk, they all get mixed up with a Baker and his wife as their neighborhood Witch gives them a chance to lift the Baker’s family curse.
Having never seen the stage production, I had heard that the film was defanged a bit of its bite for its Disney release, but I can’t say I really noticed. The film has a great subversive streak running through it and plenty of twisted and dark moments of humor; especially as the first half wraps up. While I appreciated the downbeat take of the second half, I would have spoken higher of the film I think if it just ended with the happy ending. The journey to that point is a lot of fun, fast paced, and just a joy to watch. That back half is entertaining too, and an appreciated turn, but I’m not going to argue that it is the stronger of the two halves.
A big reason the film works as well as it does is because the cast is just game from top to bottom. Chris Pine steals the show for me as the handsome prince as he cockily walks around everywhere. Pine’s duet with his brother is also the best number of the film and I can’t wait to see it again. Emily Blunt is the film’s other big highlight, and I was very appreciative that the film’s narrative was able to weasel her into everyone elses story for maximum screen time. Her final number was the highlight of the second half of the film for me. Anna Kendrick is a great and fun Cinderella and gets the pitch perfect (sorry) angle she needs to play on this version of everyone’s favorite princess. Meryl Streep is also having a ton of fun as the Witch and I haven’t enjoyed her this much in a movie since her Julia Child performance. Daniel Huttlestone is full of charisma as Jack and he brings an energy to the film every time he pops up on the screen. The only performance I didn’t really get into was Lilla Crawford as Red, she isn’t terrible, just eh.
Into the Woods is plenty of fun and can be enjoyed by just about anyone willing to engage with a musical. The cast is excellent and Sondheim’s music is some of my favorite in a musical for the big screen in a while. A couple nips and tucks and a bit better direction could have elevated some of the numbers and pacing, especially in the back half, but I think I can safely recommend Into the Woods for anyone that enjoys fairy tales.