Last night, I got to watch an early screening of Disney’s Into the Woods, the adaptation of the Tony-award winning musical by Steven Sondheim.
First of all, I do need to say that I watched the original Broadway run of Into the Woods in class back in middle school. It was a long time ago, so all it really means is that I am familiar with the story and the songs. I would not call myself a die-hard fan but it does remain one of my favorite musicals.
That being said, I thought the movie was a pretty faithful adaptation of the stage version! It wasn’t going to be perfect, by any means, especially because Disney adapted it. As most musicals go, there are some less-than-G-rated moments in Into the Woods. During development, we heard a lot of rumors of songs getting cut for being too Disney-inappropriate, like “Hello, Little Girl” and “Any Moment”, but those songs both made it into the movie. There were a few plot changes, which I’ll go over in the spoilers section below the trailer.
For my spoiler-free portion of this, I do highly recommend you see this if:
- You like the original musical
- You like musicals in general
- You like fairy tales
- You like fairy tale crossovers
- You like after ever-after fairy tale stories
- You like any of the cast members
- You like laughter
Even though Into the Woods can get a little dark a times, it is a really funny show, so expect to laugh. A lot. Comedic timing was done REALLY well, it definitely translated very well to screen. That was key for me, because I mostly remember laughing along with this show and I laughed a lot during the movie.
I do need to say things about this movie that bothered me a little:
- Maybe it was because of how close I was to the screen for this viewing, but the sound seemed a bit off. Some of the sound was WAY too loud but the rest of it was normal so I don’t know what went on. Let’s just say I definitely would not nominate them for a Best Sound Mixing Academy Award if that’s how they’re going to release the film.
- Some of the camera work was distracting. Tracking a character shouldn’t be something noticeable but I noticed and it distracted me. If you can’t track your actors properly then don’t do such a tight shot. Zoom out so that they have more freedom to move about the frame. I usually don’t notice things like that but I did here and that’s kind of the problem. (I did appreciate a lot of their framing, though.)
Some [spoiler-free] casting notes:
- Johnny Depp as the Wolf was pretty perfect. What can I say, he’s really good at playing creepy dudes. (See Pirates of the Caribbean, Willy Wonka, etc.) Even though his screentime was tragically limited (I am so not used to him not being the star of his films, I realize), he really made the most of it. The Wolf is a fun character and adding Johnny Depp’s special flavor of fun to the Wolf’s fun was pretty perfect. He has this great command of the screen when he appears, and easily his few minutes were some of the best minutes of the entire movie. Just because we are used to him playing these interesting characters does NOT mean it does not require great talent for him to do so. I don’t know, I am talking a lot about an actor who is on-screen for less than 10 minutes but everything is SO deliberate about his performance. Every movement, every look, every note he sings. It’s all extremely deliberate and intentional and really perfect for this role.
- Meryl Streep can do no wrong, so obviously she was a fantastic Witch. There’s not much else I can say because we all know she’s awesome and amazing. The Witch is one of the MOST key characters in Into the Woods, and obviously Meryl made carrying a film look effortless. And you know, even though I don’t naturally think of Meryl for musicals, she does have a really expressive voice. “Stay With Me” was done so so well.
- Chris Pine did great as Cinderella’s Prince, although I’ll admit that it doesn’t seem to be much of a challenge for him to play charming-to-a-fault types. (See Princess Diaries 2 and his Kirk in the Star Trek films.) But charming-to-a-fault is exactly what this role calls for and he delivers what he delivers best. Also, I didn’t know he was much of a singer until he was cast in this role and found out via this interview that he has a lovely singing voice. Pine Nuts, go crazy, this is Chris Pine gold.
- To be totally honest, I thought that Anna Kendrick wasn’t really able to shine in her role as Cinderella. I absolutely adore her as an actress and as a person (I mean, have you seen her Twitter?) but this role felt so stifling in my opinion. It fell a bit flat for me. Even her songs just didn’t have that oomph that I was expecting from her. Most of all, I felt that she just wasn’t very expressive in this film. Both her face and her voice are very expressive but I didn’t get much of that in this movie.
- Just have to share that I love that Lucy Punch plays a stepsister in this because she ALSO plays one of the stepsisters in Ella Enchanted. Apparently, it is the role she was destined to play. She’s great. Again, not much screentime, but she makes the most of it.
Also, the stepmother and stepsisters had AMAZING outfits for the ball. Ohmygosh, where can I get a black and gold gown like those?
- Daniel Huttlestone is really making a name for himself in these musical film-adaptations. You might know him as Gavroche from Les Miserables and he plays Jack (of beanstalk-fame) here. Really good voice on this one, and I love what he does with his facial expressions. Looking forward to seeing more of him.
- I liked James Corden in his role as the Baker. It reminds me of his Doctor Who role as Craig in that he’s this sincere but kind of clueless guy with a baby. (Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All!) While I remember Chip Zien as this kind of scrawny guy playing the Baker, it makes sense to have a guy like James Corden play him.
(Character posters courtesy of International Business Times)
One thing to note about casting is that, for the stage version, there is a lot more dramatic irony with double casting of characters. For example, the Prince and the Wolf are played by the same actor, which makes their behavior make more sense when you realize it is essentially the same. These things get lost in the movie. Just like how we lost our Narrator and the Mystery Man. BUT of course, when you translate to film, you take advantage of talent wherever you can and you simplify things.
Overall, really solid and good movie, perfect for the holiday season. I’d give it 4.5/5 stars.
Here’s the trailer for Into the Woods, in theaters on December 25th. Definitely catch it when you can!
SPOILERS COMING UP
OKAY first things first, let’s go over some differences between the movie and the stage version:
- With Rapunzel and her prince being kind of the least important storyline, their story was changed the most. That being said, it wasn’t changed a LOT or anything, but because they are pretty minor characters in respect to the rest of the characters and their stories, it was easy to put them aside. For example, Rapunzel does not become pregnant with or give birth to twins. (Disney probably didn’t like the idea of her doing anything but kissing her prince during his visits to her tower.) Instead of being banished to the desert, she’s banished to a swamp. And instead of getting trampled to death at the end, she just rides off into the distance with her Prince, away from the Witch, and basically out of the story.
- If you didn’t love the number “Agony” before, you’re going to ADORE it here. They made this song really funny from the get-go, without even trying to pretend it’s a reasonable song for these two silly princes to sing. (Also we get some chest-baring action. Hubba hubba!) However, there’s no reprise, so we don’t see the second prince straying in his marriage as well. He’s a pretty good guy throughout the whole movie.
- The Prince doesn’t sleep with the Baker’s wife. He only steals some kisses in the forest, but it’s clear that all clothes stayed on during that scene. But “Any Moment” is still in the movie! The main idea is there and that’s what matters. It’s Disney, so kissing someone else is like the HIGHEST form of betrayal in a PG-romance. This is a pretty minor change, in my opinion.
- The Baker just has some Sixth Sense ability to speak to spirits rather than his father being the Mystery Man throughout the staged version. I guess his father just died at some point in the movie version.
Those are some of the main differences that are important but didn’t really detract too much from the story as a whole.
I did find Red to be an annoying character, which I think she’s supposed to be in general but… man. So annoying. Her face and her voice and her constant eating was very annoying to me 😛 I’m glad that they didn’t cast Sophia Grace for that role, though, it would’ve been worse. However, her character did provide some good comic relief.
They did still keep in the kind of sexual undertones between her and the Wolf, which I appreciated. It was done very subtly, so if you are a child and/or not aware of those themes, you don’t really get it. But I think most adults would pick up on it.
At the end of the stage musical, we get a finale song that ends with Cinderella singing “I wish!”, with the whole cast on stage and it’s kind of a magical moment. I feel like the movie didn’t let that moment translate, that moment of these stories coming to an end but people still having their wishes. The “be careful what you wish for” moral gets really driven home at this moment in the stage musical but it’s an afterthought in the movie as they start playing the credits. I don’t know, I wish that was done differently, maybe with a NEW scene of Cinderella with her new family rather than a rehash of her at her mother’s grave from earlier in the movie. That was maybe one of the biggest disappointments to me, in addition to the songs that we lost.
As a whole, I thought it was a really faithful adaptation. I really really enjoyed the movie and recommend it, for sure. GO SEE IT.