Into the Woods (2014)

Me and Orson Welles (74)

Rob Marshall exploded onto the prestige scene in 2002, as he was mainly a choreographer on Broadway and in television productions, and when he was chosen to direct the adaptation of the iconic musical Chicago, he proved he was adept at the format and genre, directing the eventual Best Picture winner and it was thought he’d go on to even more prestigious films. Unfortunately, that dream was fast destroyed, as none of his follow-up films were that good. They ranged from mediocre (Memoirs of a Geisha) to laughable (Nine). I will admit I wasn’t too excited for his selection to direct Into the Woods, but thankfully, my fears were unfounded…but only slightly.

Into the Woods is more than just a beloved musical – it is a Broadway institution and one of the most iconic shows to ever take stages all around the world. The nearly three-decade wait for the film was not at all unneeded – to translate something like Into the Woods to a film is a major feat, and required a lot of work and a perfect cast. The efforts to get it perfect were not in vain, because I truly believe this was the best they could possibly give the legacy of the show. I honestly didn’t think they could’ve done a better job adapting it, because at least they managed to get the tone and cadences of the shows right, even if the flaws were large and very evident.

The cast is absolutely all-star, which is fascinating in itself, because it allows us to see these very popular actors to be placed in this fantasy world, and it is wonderful to see them in their ridiculous makeup and costumes. James Corden and Emily Blunt lead the cast, and they coincidentally give the two best performances in the movie. They are very funny, and have great chemistry. They are both painfully underrated, and to see them have the leading role in such a major film is validating. Other than them, the biggest draw to this film was Meryl Streep. I like Meryl very much, and recognize her position as greatest living actress. She also knows how to have fun, and playing The Witch was clearly a lot of fun. It is not an awards-worthy performance (none of the performances were), but she was a lot of fun, and was actually hilarious. Other great performances come from the youngsters Lilla Crawford (as Little Red Riding Hood) and Daniel Huttlestone (as Jack) and of course Anna Kendrick, who took a one-dimensional character and gave her a lot of life. However, Johnny Depp (who I usually like, but mostly for his earlier work) gives a bad performance as The Wolf. He isn’t particularly funny, creepy or basically good at all. His entire performance – all five minutes of it – felt really out of place, and to be perfectly honest, Depp feels like extreme stunt casting. I am pretty sure he was cast for two days of work, and was primarily hired not for his acting talents, but to be an extra marketing tool for the film. It is dreadfully disappointing to have experienced what could’ve been a very memorable part of the film turned into just a poor extended cameo to boost ticket sales. A word of warning – if you are going to go see this movie for Depp, don’t waste your time. The cast itself is strong, and all of them (bar Depp, who isn’t even in it long enough to be considered a part of the cast) are very entertaining.

Into the Woods has a genuine childlike sense of wonder about it. Anyone who grew up with fairytales will get a huge kick out of seeing the connections between the four fairytales that are part of this film. The show weaves the stories together very smartly, and the added benefit of the film version is much more space to experiment. However, the biggest flaw of the film herein lies – the film is quite simply too overstuffed with plot, and even though it is a standard length, it feels much too long. The film thus becomes too poorly paced, and so much going on leads to a lot more confusion, and some stories not being wrapped up as nicely as they should’ve been. There is just not enough time to conclude every storyline, and therefore the lesser ones are not, and even if they are, they are just briefly glossed over and the action is taken back to the main story, which is a shame because most of the subplots are far more interesting than the main storyline.

Beautifully made, but sadly very flawed. Into the Woods is in no way perfect – it had a lot of potential, but sometimes film adaptations don’t always work in the way you want them to. Fans of the show of course got what they wanted, and I enjoyed the film. It wasn’t a great film at all, and it was more just some fun than an experience. Its a cute (but often very dark) film that brings out the child in all of us, and it is very enjoyable, but that is all – its just an entertaining film that will delight lovers of musicals and those who want something different, and are looking for a truly entertaining film, and don’t mind looking over the several flaws, and the film is definitely worth it for the fun performances. Overall, not a bad movie, but nothing particularly spectacular.

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