Many great Broadway musicals like Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera and Rent have been successfully adapted to film. Broadway will always be a one-of-a-kind experience, but given the opportunity, it is astounding to see these works of art brought to the movie theaters. However, Into the Woods, directed by Rob Marshall (Chicago), failed to translate to the big screen as smoothly as other Broadway musicals. Even with its large ensemble cast and impressive production numbers, the Disney production misses the very thing that made it a hit: the Broadway stage.
Into the Woods brings many of the classic fairytales into one huge production. James Lapine, writer of the screenplay and musical, tells the story of Cinderella (Anna Kendrick, Pitch Perfect), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone, Les Misérables) from Jack and the Bean Stalk, Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford, Annie (Broadway)) and Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy, Brother’s Keeper). The musical also follows a baker (James Corden, Begin Again) and his wife (Emily Blunt, The Devil Wears Prada) who have been cursed to be barren by a witch (Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady). To lift the curse, the witch bids them to go into the woods to collect four items which happen to be from the other fairytales. The tales merge in the titular woods as Lapine puts his own wicked twist on the classic tales.
The film is teeming with well-known actors in big and small rolls. Actors who have never had major singing rolls surprised audiences with huge musical numbers and booming voices. Overall, the all-star cast delivers a vocally strong show.
Chris Pine, best known for his role as Captain Kirk in the Star Trek films, shocked many theatergoers when his character, Prince Charming, broke out in a hilarious number, “Agony,” a melodramatic song about the agony of “always being ten steps behind” the beautiful Cinderella. The audience broke out in laughter as Pine ripped open his shirt while strutting and posing in the river in the movie’s best musical number.
As expected, Streep delivered an outstanding performance as well. With her standout number, “Stay with Me,” Streep brought life into an otherwise dull lull in the movie.
However, the cast are not the only ones who should be applauded for this movie. The set and special effects are superbly executed. This set is one of the harder ones to imagine being executed well on Broadway, especially back in 1987 when it was originally released. It is impossible to make a bean stalk that reaches the skies or a giant’s foot coming down on the characters with any sense of reality.
In the movie, the special effects are so realistic that even the giants do not look out of place. Though these effects are not the focus of the film, they bring viewers effectively into a different and surprising world of fairytales. This is the only part of the play that is truly enhanced by the movie adaption.
To reach its peak level of entertainment, Into the Woods needs a live performance as well as a live audience. Though the music is astounding, the film limps along with abrupt shifts and abandoned plot lines. The story requires the emotional impact of the stage, where the audience has the opportunity between acts and intermission to adjust to the dramatic reversals.
Broadway is often meant to be overdramatic, but when a play relies on the overdramatic aspect, it can easily become ridiculous onscreen since the actors cannot dial back without losing effect. This gives the movie an absurd air.
All things considered, the film has some appealing aspects, but anyone who is not a musical or Broadway enthusiast will be wishing for an intermission.
Our Take: 3/5