Earlier in December I had the pleasure of attending an early screening of the latest live-action Disney movie, “Into the Woods.” I was both excited … well, “excited and scared” as Little Red would say, because “Into the Woods” is one of my favorite musicals. And I really didn’t want it to suck. And I’m happy to say, it didn’t. If you are a fan of the musical, I am pretty sure you won’t be disappointed with the big screen adaption. Disney did a great job of maintaining the fun and the not-so-fun elements of this film, even though several songs were cut and some minor plot points were changed. In some ways, I wish I was not familiar with the stage musical so I could have watched “Into the Woods” with a fresh mind. It’s tough for me to do this review and not shout out the little changes and differences that bothered me.
I’ll start out with the obvious – this movie is about fairy tales. But not really Disney fairy tales as you may know them. It’s closer to the Grimm fairy tales. And if you’re not super into fairy tales that ARE NOT Disney, there will be some new characters to learn. The Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt), the Witch (Meryl Streep) who lives next door, Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) (and, yes, she meets the same fate Red does in the original telling of the fairy tale), and Jack (Daniel Huddlestone) and the beanstalk (Jack is NOT played by Mickey Mouse in this adaptation). You will recognize Cinderella (Anna Kendrick, who is starting to replace Jennifer Lawrence as my #1 adorkable girl crush) and her Prince Charming (Chris Pine), and Rapunzel and her prince (NOT Flynn Ryder). The first half of the movie tells the fairy tales as you know them. All these characters must journey away from their homes and into the woods for various reasons, and their tales start to intertwine. The characters all get their happy endings, as one would expect. But, due to a series of events, the kingdom falls under attack and the story turns dark. There is betrayal, there is death, there is heartbreak. As the song “Children Will Listen” says, “wishes come true, not free.”
Speaking of songs, this next paragraph is for those of you familiar with the musical, and if you’re not, very little here will make sense. Feel free to skip past it or read on for extremely minor spoilers. There was a lot of speculation (and anger) as to what would be cut and what would be changed. There were rumors that “Moment in the Woods” would be cut, as well as the scene that leads up to it. Not true, both are still there. The Wolf (Johnny Depp), while still creepy, is less “To Catch a Predator” than the original. The entire opening number is in tact, including the “Witches Rap,” which, and this pains me to say, I think Meryl’s rap is better than Bernadette Peter’s (I’M SORRY BERNIE, PLEASE FORGIVE ME, I LOVE YOU). “Stay with Me” is solid, but I found the showstopping number “Last Midnight” to be a little lackluster compared to the Broadway version. Overall the acting and singing is top notch. If I want to be nit-picky (and I can be because this is MY review, after all), Jack’s singing was a little grinding (although “Giants in the Sky” was never one of my favorite numbers and goes on way too long, in my opinion). One of my favorite scenes, I think, is “Steps of the Palace,” which to me is a little forgettable in the play version. Kendrick does a solid job with selling the conflicting emotions of Cinderella’s decision (which, ultimately, is not to decide). “Agony” is as amazing as you would expect, if not more, although I’m sad the “Agony Reprise” was eliminated (please please please be a DVD extra). My final little complaint is that there could have been more Chris Pine. Waaaaaaaay more Chris Pine. Actually, that goes for just life in general. More Chris Pine, please.
Beware, if you are not a musical theater person, this movie is about 90% singing, and it’s the kind of singing where a non-musical theater person would say “WHY OH WHY does this merit breaking into song?” My husband, who falls into this category of joyless humans, said he liked the movie well enough but is not sure he needs to ever watch it again. Another friend texted me after her screening and said “Was that movie three hours long? Because it felt like it was three hours long. Why was there so much singing?” These comments being said to me, who has watched the original Broadway cast DVD of “Into the Woods” probably over 100 times, makes zero sense. But, to each their own. I’m an unapologetic musical theater junkie and I’m hoping and praying there will be sing-along versions played at El Capitan soon so I can go to all of the screenings. (For the record, the movie has a running time of 124 minutes.)
So, what’s my recommendation? If you love the musical, go and enjoy the screen adaptation. It’s fun, and visually impressive. If you’re not familiar with the musical but enjoy movies where characters sing out the plot, I think you will enjoy “Into the Woods.” If musicals are not your thing, I don’t think this movie will be the one to change your mind. As for kids, while the story takes a bit of a dark turn, I think kids as old as 9 or 10 would enjoy it, especially young ladies who are into the fairy tales. But use your best judgement based on your kid’s likes, dislikes, and sensitivities.
Will you be seeing “Into the Woods” when it opens on Christmas Day?
All images Copyright Disney.