The movie theater in Boulder, CO was packed on Christmas Day. There were families with children lined up for Annie, teens headed to see Night at the Museum or Hunger Games and we were packed in tight to see Into the Woods.
There were some nice moments in the film. The costumes were great and the leads were committed and even those not known for their singing prowess (hello, Emily Blunt!), performed wonderfully. Meryl Streep was exceptional. Without her emotional-nuanced performance, Into The Woods would have been another over-long remake of a Broadway musical. But I think Steven McElroy (NY Times) got it right–it was the comedic song “Agony” performed by the big ham, Chris Pine, that lifted the film right when it was sagging.
In a film with Big Themes–Parenting is a learned Skill, Poverty isn’t for the Dim-witted, Wishes Granted can come with Complications–there could’ve been more humor and less dark forest musings. Chris Pine‘s Prince and Anna Kendrick‘s Cinderella brighten the film with vivid moments. The brother princes trying to outdo each other in the self-pity department and the freeze-frame on the castle stairs are highlights of the film. I also enjoyed the duet with Emily Blunt as the Baker’s Wife cross-cut with her Baker, played by James Corden as they sing “You Are Not Alone”.
Christine Baranski is a delight as the Stepmother and the young man who plays Jack, Daniel Huttlestone, is wonderful. It’s great to see Tracey Ullman, even in a bit part. Interesting to note that Emily Blunt was pregnant during the filming. Ironic, as her character is desperate to have a child.
Rob Marshall probably had a hard time trying to decide which of the songs to eliminate from the musical. The film would’ve been better served if most of the Little Red Riding Hood scenes had been trimmed. The bland Lilla Crawford would’ve had nearly the same character arc; going from gob-stuffing young girl to wolf-skin-wearing tough girl, w/o her dream sequence. There was more emotional-weight to the shortened scenes of Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) with the Witch and her prince. And with far less screen time.
I’m glad that some of the darker moments were resurrected from the Brothers Grimm fairy tales (who needs to stand when you’re a princess and blindness as a retribution). The grisly nature of the deaths and being blinded are down-played by those scenes happening off-camera and by the astonished tone taken by the Narrator voiced by the Baker. Into The Woods is a dark film but it’s not too scary for younger viewers, esp. those who are already familiar with the musical.
When the paths are lost in the woods, the energy of the story is also lost. The blaming song brings the pace back up but then the messy demise of the Witch seems anti-climatic. If there’d been a stronger ending, I’d say the film was great. Instead, it’s a good film with some wonderful performances and some catchy tunes. I expect it to win a few Golden Globes.
Rating: 3 drinks from a golden goblet (out of 5)
Bechdel Rating: Passes, the princesses find their own strengths and one even rejects her prince. I love that the actor’s roles are listed as Rapunzel’s Prince and Cinderella’s Prince!