Film Review - Into The Woods

As any self-respecting theatre fan knows, Stephen Sondheim is responsible for many of the most outstanding and popular musical theatre pieces written in the late 20th and early 21st century, so when news broke that Into the Woods was being adapted for the screen, I was not at all surprised. I was, however, extremely happy. Good movie musicals are unfortunately a rarity nowadays, so with Disney producing, and actors such as Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine and Meryl Streep in the cast, although I wasn’t hugely familiar with the musical, it was hard for a theatre fanatic like me to be anything other than ecstatic.

Unfortunately though, having seen the film now, I must admit that I found myself a little bit disappointed overall. Having never seen the show, I don’t feel qualified to comment on whether it was the movie script that didn’t grab me or the storyline in general. But sadly, it just felt a little bit bland. The beginning felt very rushed, as did the end, while the middle seemed to stretch on for way to long. The audience had barely had time to settle in to their seats before they were introduced to the movie's first ‘villain-but-not-really’The Witch, played by Meryl Streep.

After a few minutes of exposition ham-handedly delivered through a song and flashback montage, the film’s protagonist, The Baker, and his wife (Played by James Corden and Emily Blunt respectively) were headed out into the woods, tasked with finding ingredients for a potion that would reverse a spell cast on the house of the Baker, and also reverse The Witch’s aging. Similarly, the finale was less that spectacular, with the film’s surviving protagonists tripping up a giant (Frances De La Tour, though her face and voice were so distorted you'd probably never have known it!) and saving the Kingdom from destruction. I wanted to feel wowed, and sadly I did not. Throughout the whole 2 hours 4 minutes that the film played for, I kept waiting for something to happen, but it never did. Similarly, the songs were a nice way to weave the story together, but there were very few WOW moments that really made me sit up in my seat. I know I’m committing musical theatre sin here by talking negatively about Sondheim, but truth be told, I was less than impressed.

That being said, there were, of course, some elements which I did enjoy. The cast for one thing was very talented. Of course film lovers and musical fans alike will recognise Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep from their past movie musical outings (Johnny played the title role in Sweeney Todd , another Sondheim favourite, back in 2007, while Ms Streep was Donna in Mamma Mia a year later) and will be pleased to hear that they deliver very impressive vocal performances. Anna Kendrick also sounded wonderful, and having heard her performance here, any remaining doubt I had about her playing Cathy in the movie adaptation of one of my favourite musicals, The Last 5 Years, has been washed away. But despite their relatively small screen time, Billy Magnusson and Chris Pine performed what was possibly the stand out performance of the film, Agony, with a mixture of hilarity and power that really grabbed audiences and left them wishing the scene would just go on and on.

Overall, I feel that the film was disappointing. It certainly wasn’t awful, in fact, I very much enjoyed it, but sadly I never felt truly immersed and by the end of it, I have to admit that I was checking my watch. However, despite my own personal feelings, with Sondheim fans this film has been a big hit. It’s fantastic to see another big budget movie musical following in the wake of the phenomenon that was Les Mis back in 2012. I feel that maybe the story just wasn’t for me, so I’d definitely recommend seeing it yourself at some point, and I’ll certainly be giving the film another watch when it’s released on DVD.