Into the Woods Movie Review
Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and Rapunzel collide in Walt Disney’s Into the Woods, an energetic musical blend of classic fairy tales that is highly entertaining until it goes off the rails in the final 30 minutes.
A baker and his wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt) are tasked by an evil witch (Meryl Streep) to collect four magical items from the aforementioned characters to reverse a curse, leading to an enjoyable and complex scavenger hunt employed with several recognizable characters, lots of fast-paced musical numbers and a tale that is a tinge darker than you’d expect from Walt Disney Pictures.
While not every musical number works nor does the story go off without a hitch, Into the Woodssucks you in with its complicated songs, sometimes funny lyrics and imaginative world. Meryl Streep is terrific, of course, though it’s Chris Pine who shines brightest as Prince Charming, who not only has the best song (“Agony”)—where he and his brother rip off their shirts while standing in a waterfall, gleefully accepting the absurdity of it all—but also the best one-liner (“I was raised to be charming, not sincere”).
Into the Woods is at its best when it embraces its own absurdity and even acknowledges it directly, and there are moments—like during “Agony”—where it looks like director Rob Marshall has got things fully cranking. But Marshall rarely keeps the material at such levels, because doing so would require Into the Woods to be far darker and edgier—two things that neither Marshall nor Walt Disney are particularly good at.
As a result, the movie implodes with about 30 minutes to go.
The play upon which Into the Woods is based is split into two acts, and while Marshall stays pretty true to the overall plot points (for the record, I haven’t seen the play), Act One seems much more developed and on point than Act Two. Act One, after all, is where everything ends happily ever after—Act Two is where it’s revealed that fairy tale endings don’t actually happen.
Marshall builds up to the ending of Act One as if it’s the ending of the movie, and had Into the Woods actually ended at this point, I’d probably be raving about it. But instead, the story continues—but everything that follows feels more like a depressing, less entertaining addendum than a whole second act. The final 30 minutes are dark, sad and not very enjoyable—oddly, for Act Two to actually work on the big screen, Marshall needed to not only make things even darker but to more properly employ humor throughout. As characters begin to die and other characters become “less good,” Into the Woods needed to revel in these moments, to make the audience laugh. Instead, you’re left confused, even disappointed, by how rapidly things have shifted course.
As enjoyable as much of Into the Woods is, the movie’s boring, depressing second act misfires badly. The movie is still worth seeing, but only barely.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.