Into the Woods is a tale of caution, as the tagline warns: Be careful what you wish for. What happens when you actually get those wishes? How do your desires affect those around you? When some of the world’s most classic fairy tales (the real versions, not the Disneyfied ones…think birds clawing eyes out) collide, you find out.
Full disclosure time: I am a hardcore theater nerd. I grew up attending Broadway tour productions, I listen to Broadway soundtracks in my car, I worked in professional theater in during college, and now I am a theater teacher. And I have never seen a production of Into the Woods. I have never listened to the entire Into the Woods Broadway cast recording. I feel like that makes me a bit of a theater fraud. However, I am glad I had no preconceptions about the play before attending an advance screening of the film. I expected a pretty movie with good acting and decent singing and I actually got so much more than that. To put it simply: I loved this movie. Here’s why:
Meryl Streep as the Witch is fabulous. Anyone that saw Mamma Mia had to have had some reservations about seeing her in a role that required some legit singing. I was wary. Not going to lie, I had some moments during the movie when I assumed she had a voice double a la Natalie Woods in West Side Story because there is no way the woman who sounded so terrible in Mamma Mia could sound so amazing in Into the Woods. I will give her the benefit of the doubt and chalk the improvement up to a lot of hard work and training. Meryl, your vocal coach deserves a bonus. Like a huge one.
Emily Blunt as the Baker’s Wife and James Corden as the Baker are just about perfect. They sounded great and acting was on point for both. Also, love the irony that Blunt was pregnant throughout the shooting of the film when the one thing her character wants and can’t have is a baby.
Lilla Crawford as Little Red Riding Hood was an unknown for me going into this film and her performance was a highlight. When I saw the previews, she seemed like she might be a little old for the part, but it actually helped make the sexual innuendo of Little Red and the Wolf (Johnny Depp…my favorite part about his performance was that it was short) a little less yucky. Her voice is gorgeous and she and Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) worked very well together.
Anna Kendrick was by far my favorite in the film. Her voice is amazing (and it is clear to see the difference Broadway training makes) and her performance was truly a standout for me. Chris Pine was everything he needed to be as Cinderella’s Prince; he and Rapunzel’s Prince (Billy Magnussen) deliver one of the most memorable numbers of the movie with “Agony”.
The sets and costumes, of course, were both beautiful, Cinderella’s ball gown being my favorite. I also liked that Disney left some of the grittier moments in tact (let’s just say Cinderella’s stepsisters get what they deserve). The movie delivered the more gory moments without making them too gruesome. I was most impressed with everyone’s vocal performances. Other than Depp, who was in the film for probably about five minutes, I felt like everyone really met the vocal challenges that Into the Woods presents. The problem with most movie versions of musicals is that big name celebs are cast without regard for the fact that they are not trained to sing the parts. I didn’t feel like that was an issue here and that really made the film for me. In fact, I will be purchasing the movie version of the soundtrack, I liked it that much.
Bottom line: Go see this movie. Whether you are a musical fan or not, Into the Woods is an enjoyable and entertaining film.