Disclaimer: I have never seen the Broadway musical, so this movie essentially served as my introduction to all things Into the Woods. I’ve read enough reviews and spoken to enough people who love the musical to know it’s not an entirely true adaptation, and they cut at least one song and altered one storyline; and perhaps I’ll feel differently if and when I do see the musical - but for now, this is how I felt about the movie.
I wasn’t entirely certain what to expect of a Disney movie that seemed, from the previews at least, to be a mismatch of mixed up fairy tales interspersed with Sondheim songs. I am generally leery of live-action Disney movies, having been burned in the past - I accidentally bought a copy of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010) once, and that was not a happy day in our household - but all my musical theater fanatic friends were uber-excited to see this one, so I caved and went along.
And what a fantastic experience it was! With an all star cast featuring James Corden (Craig from the Matt Smith era of Doctor Who), Emily Blunt, Tracey Ullman, Anna Kendrick, Daniel Huttlestone (Gavroche from Les Miserables), and of course Meryl Streep as the Witch and Johnny Depp as the Big Bad Wolf. Granted, Depp’s portrayal of the Wolf wasn’t exactly a highlight of the film – it was campy in an over-the-top kind of way - but I always enjoy his on-screen personas.
I particularly enjoyed the true fairy tale details - no Disney whitewashing here! The gorier aspects of the Brothers Grimm’s tales are right there on the screen, from Cinderella’s stepsister’s bleeding foot to Rapunzel’s blinded beau. But it appeared that all the tales wrapped up in one big shiny happy ending…
Until they didn’t. And that was probably my favorite thing of all. You think the movie is over, the beautiful girls are paired off with their respective princes, the baker and his wife are proud parents, Jack and Red Riding Hood are happy with their families, and even Meryl Streep’s witch manages to break a family curse and regain her youthful good looks (and that fabulous dress) - but that, my friends, is not the end.
And though the true ending is heartrending, it’s how real stories end. Things aren’t all tied up neatly in a bow, and people have to make hard choices, but life goes on.
Enough about that. Go see this movie. It’s worth it just to see Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen sing “Agony” in marvelous, overly dramatic fashion.
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