Into the Woods

Director: Rob Marshall

Starring: Anna Kendrick, Johnny Depp, Chris Pine, Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Christine Baranski, James Corden, Lucy Punch, Tracey Ullman

Rated: PG (thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material)

A witch tasks a childless baker and his wife with procuring magical items from classic fairy tales to reverse the curse put on their family tree.

 

Into the Woods

By Cole Schneider

Disney’s “Into the Woods” is a brisk, fun, funny adventure with music that pops, characters you want to see, and performers you want to see playing them. At least the first half is. The front of the movie sings as it utilizes an old fairy-tale ticking clock; the back of the movie is clunky, aimless, and surprisingly tiresome. “Into the Woods” is a Stephen Sondheim (“Sweeney Todd”) musical modestly adapted for the screen.

Many of the performances are adequate, but it is James Corden and Emily Blunt who sustain the picture with great ease. The baker and his wife are at the center of the many strands of fairy-tales after a witch (Meryl Streep) curses their family and begins their quest. Corden and Blunt are as easy to like as any in Hollywood. Others have moments of fun, notably Chris Pine as some mix of Cinderella’s Prince Charming and Beauty and the Beast’s Gaston. It’s a role limited in scope (all characters are treated as archetypes rather than full-bodied characters), but rich in comic brilliance.

It’s a bummer the film isn’t better. At the midpoint it seemed that an extended resolution was going to bring to the forefront some fairy-tale subversions it hinted at in the beginning (nay, it’s mere existence promises this), but instead the tone darkens to no end. We are left in the same place we began and in a more dour place than we were halfway through. It’s not that there aren’t enjoyable moments in the last hour, there just aren’t nearly enough. It’s still undeniable that of the major Christmas Day releases, the best place to go is “Into the Woods”.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

 

Into the Woods

By Matt Greene

ItW is a novel concept: flesh out the ubiquitous fairy tales we all know, throw them together, and give them more humanity, humor, and honesty than they’ve ever had. It’s an idea that could garner quirky praise or tiresome groans. ItW gets a bit of both. Starting as a stage production (probably a more fitting medium for the story), Marshall’s film adaptation suffers from some pretty weak direction and some identity problems, but otherwise reads like an odd, imperfect little gem. It’s old timey fun, with bombastic sets, well-pitched over-the-top performances, and a light tone. So even though it’s a bit muddy, ItW manages to find its footing in simply being good-natured fun.

The plot is all the stories we grew up with cleverly woven into one comedic-musical epic.  Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel intertwine, full of great and inspired self-awareness, questioning the overly simple morals we seem to force out of possibly more complex narratives. The result is unique and unpredictable, supported by a fantastic cast (Kendrick as a flaky Cinderella and Pine as dim-wittedly pompous Prince Charming stand out). Throw in some truly genius Sonndheim songs, it’s hard to swallow that this didn’t end up better than it is.

Unfortunately, director Marshall doesn’t quite have control of his material. There is a LOT to juggle, and while the shrewd writing mostly shines through, many of the vignettes and characters aren’t handled with enough style or grace. One can’t help but wonder what a more sophisticated auteur-director could do with the amazing source material. Still, ItW is a decent amount of affable fun.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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