Friday, December 26, 2014

INTO THE WOODS Review- Jonesy's Take

Directed by Rob Marshall
Written by Stephen Lapine
Starring: James Corden, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Johnny Depp, and Meryl Streep.
Synopsis: Fairy tales converge to try and stop a witch's curse in this modern musical.

This review was originally run on

In recent years, trying to adapt a musical to the big screen is a task that is met with dismal success. There's a certain, and pardon my cliche phrasing, magic that exists between the performers and the audience when watching live theatre. There's an energy that's palpable, and that magic can be difficult to recreate on screen.

The latest endeavor to bring a musical to the big screen is by director Rob Marshall, who was actually pretty successful with CHICAGO but bombed with NINE. This time it's INTO THE WOODS, which is a twist on the classic fairy tales. The original musical and lyrics is written by Stephen Sondheim, who's one of the greatest in the Broadway world. His music and lyrics are intricate, funny, and anyone who is anyone on Broadway has been in a Sondheim show.

INTO THE WOODS brings together fairy tale characters in a magical world. There's Cinderella (Kendrick) wanting to go to the Prince's (Pine) ball. Jack (Huttlestone) who has to sell his precious milky white cow so him and his mother can eat. Little Red (Crawford) who is bringing goodies to grandma in the woods, and then the Baker (Corden) and his wife (Blunt) who just want a child of their own. All of their plans are unravelled by the presence of a curse brought on by the witch (Streep) who lives next door. She cursed the Baker and his wife, so now they must journey into the woods to retrieve items to reverse the curse.

And along the way, they run into all the other characters, and everyone's storyline gets intertwined.

The music is the strongest aspect of the film. Marshall, in a very wise move, cast actors who actually can sing and keep up with the difficulty of Sondheim's syncopated arrangements. A number of the songs are re-imagined in a fresh way which will keep the musical nerds interested. 'Agony' is an absolute hilarious showstopper, and this is my favorite rendition of 'On The Steps of the Palace'.

Of course, some significant changes were made from stage to screen. The movie takes more from the original production as opposed to the 2002 revival. Several songs were cut, including the ever delightful 'Agony (Reprise)', and some subplots were dropped for time's sake. But on part that makes the movie not work is the tone in the second half. The first of the film completely soars and is very fun. Then there's an big tonally shift during the last half of the film.

This musical gets very dark, and unfortunately, some of that dark tone was watered down to keep this a more family-friendly film. Certain tragedies that happen to characters either happen off screen or too quickly for the audience to feel the full weight, thus the more emotional aspects of the film don't feel earned.

But even with the tonally issues, the ensemble cast is such fun to watch. They bring a vivacity to their roles. Kendrick and Streep have already proven they have the chops for movie musicals. Streep is absolutely brilliant, as if there was ever any doubt. But Blunt is wonderful as the Baker's wife. She brings a new sort of strength to the character, which doesn't always show on stage. She was the one I was most worried about, but ended up being my favorite.

For musical nerds like myself, this isn't the worst adaptation to come to the big screen, but it doesn't break any new ground for movie musicals. The film is entertaining and has some very fun moments if you can push through the mess of a third act.

Grade: B

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