This post could easily be subtitled Disney vs. PBS. Because I didn’t just watch Into the Woods once. Oh no. I suffered through it twice!
Fun facts: I hate Disney. I don’t like musicals. And I loathe fairy tales.
Why exactly did I think I would like Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods? Honestly, I’m not sure. I saw a high school production of the musical back when I was in high school myself and I remembered enjoying it. Turns out my memory on certain plot points was very, very hazy. Or just plain wrong. My review below is chock-a-block full of spoilers. That’s your warning to stop reading now if you want to remain blissfully ignorant of the plot of the musical, the movie or my insane fever dream of what I thought happened, but was actually totally inaccurate.
Let’s talk about what works. Into the Woods is a lavishly filmed Disney epic full of stars, beautiful costumes and great sets. The editing is smooth, the lighting and cinematography are gorgeous and the special effects are flawless. This movie is so polished it positively shines. I would expect no less from Disney (that damn mouse is a perfectionist) or director Rob Marshall. The production is on point and no doubt cost a pretty penny.
The acting is… pretty good. There were some performances I loved: James Corden as the Baker, Emily Blunt as the Baker’s Wife and of course, Meryl. I was even impressed with Streep’s singing this time around, but that might be because I came into it with very low expectations due to her Mama Mia! performance. The rest of the cast was much more than adequate. The only one who stands out as sort of strange is Johnny Depp. But then does Depp play anything other than weird these days? His Wolf was off-putting, but mercifully on screen for a short amount of time total. Even my 10-year old son picked up on it. He turned to me half-way through and said, “This is weird.” You’ve got that right, kid.
The movie is long. Just over two hours. Add in the previews and we were trapped in our slightly uncomfortable theater seats for about 2.5 hours total. My son and I both lost interest about 20-30 minutes before the end of the film. The plot just kind of peters out rather than building to a conclusion. Which is weird as there’s a giant roaming around and everyone is in mortal danger. But it didn’t feel like there were any real stakes – even after a main character or two gets bumped off. As the credits rolled, I found myself singing my own version of the opening number…
I wish it had been a little bit shorter!
The film didn’t end quite the way I remembered. And while I easily could have just read a plot description, I instead decided to sit through the entire 2.5+ running time of the PBS-aired American Playhouse : Into the Woods from 1991 starring Bernadette Peters as the witch to see what was missing. Because I am a masochist.
I was still convinced I had loved the musical-version and I wanted to see why I found the movie-version a bit lacking. And while it’s true, Disney did some nips and tucks and put a bit of a happier ending on at least one of the more minor story lines, mostly I just remembered the play differently. The Disney version strips away some of the more pointed comedy and innuendo. Not much of a surprise there. The play is definitely PG-13 and I’m sure the studio execs wanted a PG rating for the film. Plus, I really didn’t need to see Depp prancing around in a gigantic codpiece as the Wolf does in the stage version, so I was fine with that particular omission. I would have liked to see the reprise of Agony, but then you don’t get a happy ending for Rapunzel, so that had to go, too.
For some reason, I remembered the Baker’s Wife getting pregnant by the Prince. God only knows how I managed to jumble that up in my brain, but that is NOT what happens on the stage or the screen. But wouldn’t that be more fun? After all, the curse is on the Baker’s family tree, so a child sired by another man would make just as much sense as a magical cow potion. A little scandal would have given the story a bit more sizzle in my opinion. But that’s an opinion that Disney certainly doesn’t share.
Recommended? Eh… I guess. There are far worse films and I’m glad I saw this one. I’m sure many, many people will love this film. I’m just not one of them, but then I’m not this film’s target demographic either. However, I do think I would look great with blue hair.