My thoughts on Into the Woods:
Preamble: I love Into the Woods. I’ve memorized it. I’ve played the Witch, I want to play the Baker’s Wife one day. I love it, every lyric and every note. I was hesitant of certain choices made early on in the casting and choices of the movie, some of which changed thankfully, but regardless (and with memories of Les Miserables and the current version of Annie in my head), I went in with a particular guardedness towards modern movie musicals as of late.
The reaction? I’m 85% happy with the results. (SOME SPOILERS AHEAD) It is incredibly faithful to the overall energy and point of the original show, and while it is only 2 hours long and cuts some material, it stays pretty faithful. I actually have patience and enjoy long movies, so I could have seen 15-30 more minutes of material. But there were quite a few kids in the audience (I watched the movie from the Walt Disney Theater on board the cruise ship the Disney Dream), and one of the kids hilariously groaned “ANOTHER song?!?!” about half-way through. Sooooo, maybe the “common denominator audience” may not have the musical theater diligence that I do for this movie.
Director Marshall thankfully allowed the monologue songs to be mostly sung-thru on camera, and took creative license to use both flashbacks and metaphorical storytelling to enhance the lyrics. I was surprised by Meryl Streep’s voice (I knew she could act it, but she’s come a long way since Mama Mia), and luckily most of the time the actors could carry a tune (which was sometimes not found on the Broadway stage version at the Public Theater). The absence of the Mysterious Man was felt, but I liked the inclusion of his conscience as a “ghost” in the Baker’s mind rather than a physical presence – it made a hell of a lot more sense that the Baker is narrating this story to his son instead of the Public Theater’s “in the mind’s eye of a child” version, which made no cohesive sense to me. For those who don’t know the show, this is a great introduction to it (although ideally, I would recommend watching the original to get a true sense first). HOWever, it’s a good representation and Sondheim’s lyrics and music, plus James Lapine’s script and message shine through. While I’m probably not going to get the soundtrack to the movie, I’m going to see it again with others, and forgive the occasional drop down the octave. And it was glorious to be able to see characters run through actual WOODS, with dirt and leaves and all. For the most part, you could have taken this cast and put them on stage, and have a reasonable facsimile to the original show…barring a few “purist” issues:
There were some things that made me cringe a bit (SPOILERS), mostly having to do with emotional character development that actually matters in the “Second Act”: 1. Johnny Depp as The Wolf. Didn’t (or couldn’t) hit the low notes…why could I see a human face (or, if he was magically making him look human, make that a plot point)…and his costuming in Zoot Suit gear threw me out of the era. 2. Why reword “Steps of the Palace” in different tense…we know what’s going on! 3. Rapunzel’s death NEEDS to happen in order for The Witch to sing “Last Midnight.” When The Witch throws the beans for the last time and cries out to her mother SHE HAS NOTHING LEFT TO LIVE FOR. Rapunzel runs away with her prince, and in my interpretation of the character The Witch would have given chase and would have stopped at nothing to get her back. 4. Baker’s Wife getting pregnant in 2.5 seconds…something I HATED the Public Theater in Central Park version too. It removes the Baker from the “equation,” so to speak, removes any amount of relationship he and his wife must have in order to make the baby and have a 9 month growing-together-as-a-couple-again time. 5. Why dumb down the fact that the Steward kills Jack’s Mom outright, and not “just an accident”? Disney didn’t like actual MURDER happening I guess, which dumbs down the fact that in stressful situations, people do horrific things to each other? 6. Agony and Prince Charming – hmmmmm…part of me liked the hamminess and I did laugh at the “I’ve got bigger blue balls than you” metaphor amidst the river water spray. However, sometimes I thought Chris Pine was in a differently directed movie than everyone else. 7. Kendrick – I was surprised to think she sang the role better than she acted it. Cinderella is not a blank slate of a personality – she’s supposed to have a broader character than Anna portrayed. And the pivotal moment when she learns from her bird friends that the Prince has been unfaithful, Anna brushed off the “that doesn’t matter” line with NO internal moment whatsoever. But then again, there was no “Intermission” in the script to show the passing of time or that she had any actual relationship with her Prince beyond the ball, so maybe she had no love for him whatsoever in the first place. Anyway, I didn’t get those choices, or any of her blank stare reactions. 8. And speaking of being unfaithful, kissing against a tree does not make the Baker’s Wife and the Prince have a “moment” in the woods. The inference in the show is that they have had intercourse, not just a heavy petting. I’ve seen more ravishing done on the stage between the two, which in turn can make “Moments in the Woods” all the more poignant. But again, it’s DISNEY’s Into the Woods, so maybe I’m tilting at windmills.
So, I recommend this movie version and believe my nit-picking to be the product of my enthusiasm and faithfulness to the original script and characters. But on the whole, it doesn’t sully my enjoyment of the musical itself, and it’s a good representation of Sondheim’s brilliance. While I’m not gushing about it, I’m pleasantly enjoying its existence and am excited not to groan my way out of it the way I’ve done with some movie musicals in the recent past. Marshall can direct any future movie musical in my book!