by Maison Kelly
There is no denying it, movie musicals have seen a huge revival recently. Yet, this genre still seems to be completely hit-or-miss in quality, and the movie production of a theatre goer’s favorite show offers no guarantees to meet his or her standards. While more light-hearted musicals, like Annie, are very difficult to complicate, it is the musical with depth and intelligence that could quickly turn cheesy when put on the silver screen. Into The Woods, with its prominent themes of morality, light and dark, and even death, was an interesting choice that payed off immensely.
Into The Woods, if you haven’t heard, is a musical masterpiece written by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim. It combines many common fairytales together (the stories of Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack, and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, etc.), and puts a darker twist on their happily-ever-after endings. It also introduces a new story, one of a Baker and his wife who are unable to conceive. This is caused by no ordinary reason, but because the Witch next door had cursed their household to be forever barred. She offers one way to lift the curse- by the Baker and his wife going into the woods to retrieve four things: the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the slipper as pure as gold, and the hair as yellow as corn. This is where all the fairytales weave together.
The main reason for this momentous success of a film is the screenplay writer, James Lapine. Because he is also the original writer of Into The Woods, the stage musical, it is no coincidence that he kept the film’s themes aligned, despite Disney’s edits. While the movie is not as dark as the musical, and some notable points and songs are cut out, it still accurately communicates its message.
It isn’t all censored either, as some of the musical’s darkest moments still remain. “Hello, Little Girl,” undoubtedly eerie, is performed unforgettably by Johnny Depp and Lilla Crawford. Though the role of the Wolf is much smaller in the film, Depp’s deep, smooth voice and mysterious charm make him perfectly suited. Lilla Crawford also does a remarkable job of giving the most annoying character in the musical, vocally and personality-wise, some humanity and likability. Yet her character is one of three a part of the most out of place scene in the film. Though Little Red being saved from the belly of the Wolf makes sense on stage, it did not come across well in an odd CGI flashback sequence. Still, she recovers from this with a spirited rendition of “I Know Things Now”.
These two well-cast characters are not anomalies, either. The whole supporting cast stands up very well, and Anna Kendrick‘s Cinderella has definitely been an audience favorite. She maintains the role’s naivety and kindness without coming off too sugary. Her prince, played by Chris Pine, is lovably detestable and perfect in every obnoxious line of “Agony”. They don’t have remarkable chemistry together, but it makes sense considering their character’s relationship is not without flaw. Jack, played by Daniel Huttlestone, also stands out for his ceaseless energy. Though his accent is a bit out of place, he delivers an exhilarating and genuine version of “Giants in The Sky”.
The real stand-outs of the casting are the Baker and The Baker’s wife, played by Emily Blunt and James Corden. The Baker’s Wife, as a role, is famous for her complexity. Yet, Blunt’s portrayal is absolutely stunning and seemingly effortless. Her objectives and base desires are so clear, and her determination and moral compass are obvious throughout the whole film. Paired with Corden, they are unstoppable. Corden brilliantly plays the innocence and insecurity of the Baker, without being whiny or boyish. His comedic timing is stellar, and his replacement of the Narrator in the prologue is clever and touching.
Meryl Streep‘s characterization of the Witch was particularly interesting. Watching the film, it became evident that she took no help from any other portrayal, and created a character completely originally. Unlike any other version, Streep creates a slightly colder and more selfish Witch. “Stay With Me” is still passionate, but the “Witch’s Lament” appears to fall a bit flat, at first. But upon further thought, it’s not that it falls flat, it just reveals an almost sociopathic quality to the Witch. Unlike the infamous Mamma Mia, Streep’s vocals seriously deliver, and “Last Midnight” is amazing. Her ugly exterior, fortunately, was disturbing without being obnoxiously comedic, like in the stage version.
Overall, this is one of the most well-done and cinematographically beautiful movie musicals out there. It stays true to the original version, has a well-equipped cast, and a stunning set. Though some unprepared audiences may be shocked at Into The Woods’ depth, any theatergoer will be pleasantly surprised at this amazing translation.