Film Review “Into the Woods”

itw_PrinceStarring: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt and Johnny Depp
Directed by: Rob Marshall
Rated: PG
Running time: 2 hrs 4 mins
The Walt Disney Company

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

In late 1987 and early 1988 it was a great time for Broadway musicals. Fans had three long running and beloved shows to pick from. “Les Miserable” won the Tony Award for Best Musical and was made into a great film. “The Phantom of the Opera” also won the Tony Award for Best Musical and was made into a so-so film (call it the curse of Joel Schumacher). One of the shows “Phantom” beat that year was the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine take on fairy tales, “Into the Woods.” It too has been made into a film and, while it’s not “Les Miz,” it isn’t “Phantom” either!

As the film opens we are introduced to several familiar characters from all of our childhoods: Cinderella (Anna Kendrick); Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford); Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), the kid with the beanstalk; the Baker and his wife (James Corden and Blunt) and, of course, the evil witch (a well-cast Streep). Their stories all become intertwined when they all meet up and discover that each has something the others want. It’s just a matter of what they’re willing to do to get them.

On the plus side, I can safely say that it is virtually impossible to have a bad musical when the guy writing the tunes is Stephen Sondheim. If I listed all of his great shows I’d be here until NEXT Christmas so let me give you the first five off the top of my head – “West Side Story,” “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum,” “Gypsy,” “Sweeny Todd” and “Assassins.” Though some of the songs from the show have been excised (as have some characters, many of whom have been combined into one) the score is still as hummable as it was almost three decades ago. The cast is also pitch perfect – a little Anna Kendrick joke there…did you see what I did there…with everyone having a wonderful time. Besides those named above, work by Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski and Depp, as the Big, Bad Wolf is exemplary. The biggest surprise here is, ironically, the same actor who surprised me earlier this year in “Horrible Bosses 2”…Chris Pine. As Prince Charming, Pine is all dramatics and gravitas, singing strongly of his love for the mysterious Cinderella while making sure his shirt is open far enough to see his hairy chest! And what a great voice. Sorry William Shatner, but the answer to which Captain Kirk is the better singer sure isn’t you! Corden and Blunt also shine as a young couple in love who achingly want a child. Speaking of children, young Huttlestone brings a fun and youthful spirit to Jack. I was probably too hard on Huttlestone when I reviewed him as Gavroche in “Les Miz.” I think it’s just because I hate the character. When I saw the show live I actually had to stop myself from applauding when Gavroche was shot. My bad.

The negative is that, in order to make the film “family friendly,” some of the darker elements of the show have been removed. Some of the characters that died in the show now survive and those that do die do it off screen. Body parts are cut off and eyes plucked out. Speaking of body parts, the wolf is missing a major piece of his anatomy. To put it bluntly, in the show the wolf wanted to do more to Red Riding Hood then just steal her basket! And while those unfamiliar with the show won’t notice those changes, fans of the show will not be happy. What’s next? The movie version of “SPAMALOT” that doesn’t tout the necessity of having Jews to succeed?

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