Into the Woods

Directed by Rob Marshall, U.S., 2014

It seems that Hollywood has two or three big budget musical adaptations in them a year these days.  Into the Woods is the third such film in 2014, and a far superior effort to Clint Eastwood’s Jersey Boys (which I saw but couldn’t be bothered to review – what does that tell you?) and by all accounts (I haven’t seen it) the remake of Annie.

It should be noted that Into the Woods should be looked at with an understanding of what musical films are today.  To compare a film like Into the Woods to, say, West Side Story (1961) is unfair and not very helpful.  It doesn’t quite reach the heights of 2002’s Chicago but it’s certainly up there with 2007’s Sweeney Todd in the top percentile of recent musical films.

Into the Woods is certainly faithful to its source material, and the performances are quite effective.  Meryl Streep got another Oscar nod for her role as the witch. Emily Blunt, James Corden and Anna Kendrick are compelling as the co-leads. Finally, Chris Pine does his best J. Peterman impression as Prince Charming.

Into the Woods is a fun movie if you like musicals, especially Stephen Sondheim’s.  What I suppose I’m struggling with is what this adaptation adds to the stage production.  The production design is conservative enough that it could be easily matched by a modern, Broadway revival.  Then again, this isn’t necessarily a knock on the film itself, depending on your perspective.

Even if it doesn’t seem to have much purpose beyond what a stage production would provide, Into the Woods is the equal to modern theatrical production without the modern theatrical prices.  The fact that it doesn’t add to or comment on its source material is quite irrelevant to enjoying this version of the story if you liked the stage production.

You might like Into the Woods if: You love Sondheim and haven’t been to a revival showing in quite some time.

You might not like Into the Woods if: You prefer that your Hollywood musical adaptation add to or comment on their source material.

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe