Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it, and happy Thursday to those who don’t! For Christmas Eve I decided to go check out Into the Woods and since the story is based on fairy tales, figured why not throw up a review of it?
First and foremost, the cast was fantastic. While some of the singing wasn’t the best, it was pretty much contained to characters who didn’t have much to sing, most notably Johnny Depp, whose Wolf was little more than a cameo, but on a whole the cast was very solid and I never had an immersion break because of bad vocals. Chris Pine’s voice was an especially pleasant discovery. I’ve seen him on stage before (I actually prefer him on stage than on screen) and now I’d love to see him tackle a stage musical – it was that good. Emily Blunt has justly been getting praised and James Corden was a wonderful Baker. Props all around. It’s such a relief that they cast people who could sing as Broadway intends you to and act, as opposed to trying to teach actors how to sing (as in Sweeney Todd). More productions need to do this.
Also top notch are the visuals, including the costumes and the sets. It feels likes a fairy tale. Some may complain that it’s a bit-stagey in costuming because the clothing changes are very minimalistic, but I personally didn’t find it a distraction and I don’t think most audiences should either.
As for the music, it’s Sondheim. The prologue (“Into the Woods”) is very hummable, and “Agony” may get stuck in your head, but this isn’t a show that you’re going to sing along to. That simply isn’t the composer’s style. There aren’t any real reprises either – the one reprise (ironically the first one ever used in his shows) was actually cut from the film for length – so you’re not going to have songs repeated again and again, though there are certainly motifs that do run throughout the show if you’re observant.
Finally, if there is a complaint I do have is that the pacing is slow. Again, it’s very Sondheim. It just doesn’t work quite as well here because fairy tales usually call for something a bit more brisk. Though the show’s running time was cut significantly (from 2 hours 40 to 2 hours 4) it does feel a little long. It doesn’t really feel like they should have cut any of the songs, I think it’s just the nature of the storytelling. For what its worth, there were a couple of people at my show who fell asleep . It may also be a bit dark for younger kids. There were three significant deaths (not counting a pair of giants) and let’s just say the fate Cinderella’s step-sisters is very much in line with the original fairy tale. That said, the violence is implied and mainly handled off-screen so that shouldn’t be too much a concern for parents. From what I understand, Depp’s Wolf was toned down, but there still some legitimately creepy undertones there as well. The film did earn it’s PG rating though, and I probably wouldn’t show it to kids under the age of 9 or 10. Between the slower pacing, the lack of real up-beat songs, and some of the themes, younger kids might get antsy and/or scared. It’s something to keep in mind because the trailers don’t attest to the darker aspects of the show.
Overall, I enjoyed the film and I think musical fans will as well. The general audience may be a little more iffy, if only because Sondheim isn’t the most accessible composer. I personally love that about him, but I can see how that might be a turn off for others. If you’re a musical fan, you’ll enjoy yourself for sure and it’s worth paying full price. If you’re seeing it for any other reason – the cast or the story – you may want to stick to a bargain matinee in case it isn’t your cuppa.
Verdict: Borrow It