I’ve never been to Broadway, but it’s safe to say I’m a Stephen Sondheim fan. The man that brought us West Side Story and Sweeney Todd is one of the greatest musical theater composers of the 20th century. Into the Woods, which first hit Broadway in 1987, is just one of his famous works and in the age of Walt Disney, it only makes sense that this story would be adapted for the big screen.
The film, which is an intermingling of several fairy tales, is a splendid romp with a simple premise: Be careful what you wish for. Director Rob Marshall (Chicago) knows his way around a musical and brings Sondheim’s vision to life with the utmost Disney flare. It helps that he has a magnificent cast. Lilla Crawford (who got her start playing Annie on Broadway) and Daniel Huddlestone (Les Miserables) are equally jovial as Red Riding Hood and Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk. James Corden and Emily Blunt have fine chemistry as the Baker and his wife. Anna Kendrick upgrades even more from her Pitch Perfect days as Cinderella while Chris Pine is downright hilarious in his over the top portrayal of the handsome Prince. Of course, it isn’t hard to identify the best performer in a movie with Meryl Streep in it. Streep is captivating from start to finish as the Wicked Witch.
Like with any Sondheim classic, the music is magnificent. If you don’t like musicals, or only find them tolerable, this may not be the movie for you. More than most of the film is sung, but hopefully there is some consolation in the fact that all of the singing is good (There are no Russell Crowe’s here). If you’re a fan of Disney fairy tales, then this should be right up your ally. Sondheim’s music is wisely not tampered with by Rob Marshall, but he still gets to infuse his vision in the stylish costumes and storybook cinematography.
The movie’s final act is its unavoidable biggest flaw. While the story still manages to be emotional and poignant throughout, the execution of the dramatic twists gets a bit sloppy and excessive. One of the characters’ deaths comes so suddenly that it’s almost anti-climactic. But, luckily there is enough magnificent music, brilliant performances, and important life lessons to make Into the Woods a satisfyingly uplifting experience.
FINAL GRADE: B+