Into The Woods
The Short- Very rarely do musical adaptations flow this well or go down as easy as Rob Marshalls Into The Woods, It is a musical that embraces its Broadway roots without forgetting to be cinematic. Into The Woods boasts a beautifully talented cast and is carried by the performances of the films main players, not to mention a number of scene stealing performances.
Nothing is more difficult in Hollywood these days then adaptations, don’t get me wrong they happen all the time but nothing is more scrutinized. The best example you can give is that Les Miserable was an Oscar winner, a best picture nominee, and absolutely obliterated by fans of the musical. The casting of Russell Crowe or the extreme close ups not withstanding I actually enjoyed it. I thought the Oscars were deserved and the singing (for the most part) was great but I am not as big of a broadway nut as some of the members of my family. That brings us to Into The Woods, a musical adaptation brought to the screen by James Lapine the same writer who brought the story to life on Broadway. Oscar nominee Rob Marshall (Chicago) takes the reins and the adaptation is better for it, Marshall brings each musical number to life and gives his cast the ability to use the films ample scenery. Marshall uses the distinct advantage of cinema to his advantage, not feeling the need to utilize the things we didn’t like about Les Mis, Instead telling people under no uncertain terms that this film is a musical and if you don’t like it the exits are located in the front, sides and in the rear of the auditorium. Into the Woods is also not for everyone, it’s bold, dark, and goofy, with more than a few things that had to be scaled down in order to get a PG rating. It indulges in the art of campiness and there are a few performances that show just how much camp Lapine and Sondheim were willing to pack in to the play and just how willing Marshall was to keep it in. Some actors intentionally turn into the camp like an out of control car and they are some of the better aspects of the film but we will get to that in a minute. Into the Woods is about how life takes you in a certain direction and it’s up to you to either live with it or change it, it’s also about embracing your best self. It would have been odd (and not unusual) for the filmmakers to leave certain things out to better suit a wider audience.
Into The Woods is a mashup of 4 classic Grimm Brothers stories set around an original story about a Baker and his Wife that have been cursed by a vindictive witch and are now unable to have a child, the stories all occur around the baker and his wife going on a journey to collect 4 items in order for the witch to break the curse. The story takes place around Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and The Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood, and each story is connected. Marshall and Lapine take us through each of these stories as the intertwine, and they are definitely the darker versions, especially towards the films conclusion yet even if the show becomes less kid friendly it stands out for having more than just a mild sense of humor. Winking and nodding to the ridiculousness of each story while still making each character fun and compelling. The films cast begin with James Corden (The Future host of The Late Late Show, Begin Again) and Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow) as the baker and the baker’s wife. Corden and Blunt have excellent chemistry and each number they perform together flows together beautifully. Other members of the cast include Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Lilla Crawford, Chris Pine, and a very brief performance from Johnny Depp. Streep shines as the vindictive witch; she’s perfect and takes advantage of the shows music whether it’s rapping about greens in the films prologue or the much later “Stay with Me.” The Oscar winner Streep is as usual award worthy in her performance, like many of the other players in Into the Woods, Streep veers directly in to the campiness of musical theater. Like Streep, no one indulges in the campiness of Sondheim more than Chris Pine who delivers one of if not the best scene stealing performance of 2014. In his main song “Agony”, Pine and Billy Magnussen add the films funniest moment. Both actors singing about their struggle with the women in their life, it’s one of the most splendid moments of a very excellent movie musical. Anna Kendrick stars as Cinderella and gives a beautiful performance; she is at her absolute best during her middle of the film number “On the Steps of the Palace” and during the films climax. Matching Kendrick is Christine Baranski (The Good Wife) as the wicked stepmother as well as Tammy Blanchard (Moneyball) and Lucy Punch (Hot Fuzz, Ben and Kate) as the wicked step sisters, they are particularly wicked in Wood’s darker take on the popular stories. Baranski is perfectly cast in the role and while they are only in a number of scenes in Into the Woods they are great. Former Broadway Annie Lilla Crawford, Crawford plays a particularly hungry red riding hood that has a run in with a zoot suit wearing wolf played briefly by Johnny Depp. Crawford steals plenty of moments throughout the film whether it’s early on in the prologue or later on during “I Know Things Now”. Crawford, an already successful Broadway actress shows that talent while appearing in ¾ of Into the Woods.
Into the Woods is more Broadway then cinema so I can understand how I have seen plenty of people who either did not like Into the Woods or left early. I thought Into the Woods was one of the more enthusiastic and enjoyable movie musicals in recent memory in fact I found it more enjoyable then Les Miserable even if I highly doubt it will win as many Oscars. Into the Woods boasts an incredibly talented cast and is adapted for film perfectly; it is one of the most enjoyable movie musicals in recent years and should be a benchmark for how they are adapted in the future. Most of all it deserves credit on never forgetting its Broadway roots, which for the shrewd fan base is something that makes it better than most.