I’ve seen Into The Woods (Disney, 12.25) twice — once three and a half weeks ago (on Monday, 11.24 — the night of the Ferguson Grand Jury announcement) and a second time on a DVD screener a week or so ago. I’d nearly forgotten about it with everything else going on, but then the reviews broke today…of course! My reaction was and is basically positive — this is easily the best film ever directed by the not-tremendously-respected, more-or-less-regarded-as-a-hack Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine, Memoirs of a Geisha). He hasn’t gotten in the way or otherwise fucked up the spirited ingredients that made the original 1987 Stephen Sondheim stage musical such a triumph, and has actually enhanced the material in a reverent and respectable fashion. It may not be gloriously or rapturously inspired, but Into The Woods has spunk and smarts and more or less gets it right. It’s an intelligent, thoughtful musical that actually says something about storybook fantasy vs. reality, and it does so with rigor and discipline and a mesmerizing, high-Hollywood style. The tweener idiots might be shifting around in their seats (“Hey, we want more escapism!”) but the over-25s will get what’s going on and enjoy it as fully as they should.
If for no other reason you have to see it for the dazzling opening number which introduces all the characters (Cinderella and her dashing prince, a witch, blondie Rapunzel and her own dashing prince, Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf, Jack and his sky-high beanstalk, a baker and his wife hoping to have a child) and their situations and longings…bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. I was utterly delighted by how well this sequence is performed and shot and assembled…just about perfect. Woods starts to feel a little drawn-out and downshifty somewhere in the middle section and it doesn’t end as vigorously — it kind of settles into a quiet mood of acceptance with the magic out the window. But the last act is thematically moving as these well-known fairy-tale legends grapple with the fact that their fates are just as anxious and uncertain as anyone else’s and that no one lives happily ever after. Welcome to the world of limits, shortcomings and diminishments, guys.
I honestly don’t feel sufficiently turned on to go to town for eight or ten paragraphs but I really have very few quibbles and not much else to say. The stand-out actors are, as you might expect, Meryl Streep as the witch, Emily Blunt and the almost constantly open-mouthed, pig-eyed, none-too-bright-seeming James Corden as the baker’s wife and the baker, Anna Kendrick as Cinderella and Chris Pine as her prince. Daniel Huttlestone‘s Jack hits all the right marks and notes, and Tracy Ullman is perfectly fine as his mother. I have to say that Johnny Depp didn’t seem to be playing a storybook wolf with anything that felt like serious snap or originality — he seemed to be playing Johnny Depp playing a storybook wolf in a kind of preening, phoned-in fashion…Ed Wood with fur and fangs and long, big ears. Lilla Crawford sings smoothly and professionally as Little Red Riding Hood but she’s not all that cute or little-girl charming, to be honest — she could be a short girl in her mid or late 20s — and there’s something overly practiced and even a little robotic about her acting.