Into the Woods is one of the most highly anticipated movies of the year. The Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical has long been an audience favorite and its adaptation to the screen had theater lovers going wild with excitement. Then when the cast, headed by Meryl Streep as the Witch, was announced, anticipation inched up even higher.
Now it is in theaters and some of the excitement has cooled down. It isn't that the cast doesn't do its best to bring this fairy tale adventure to fulfillment. It isn't that the songs aren't some of the best Sondheim has ever written. It isn't that the look of the movie isn't gorgeous. Its just that something, some little something is awry.
Maybe it is in Streep's portrayal of the Witch. She gives a true Streep performance and also adds in some better singing ability than she showed in Mama Mia. Still the Witch cries out to be shown as wicked with a sense of humor. You can tell that in some of her best lines -- "No .... you have a sister." That line should be purred, not just stated.
Or maybe it is the throwaway use of Tracey Ullman's talent as Jack's mother. Granted the role as written is not big, but each time Ullman is seen she says her lines and there is a quick cutaway from her. Ullman is a major talent and deserves more screen time at least visually.
Or maybe it is the elimination of the song "No More" which is used in the play to draw everything together. I though the finale needed something to let you know this group of surviving characters were going to be okay. They had come through a lot after "happily ever after" and needed to show their cohesiveness. This song would have helped with that. As is the "group" seems too individualized to make it as a whole.
Keeping the whole project to a PG level might also have been a mistake. There are some dark doings going on in Into the Woods. If the Baker's wife (Emily Blunt) had been shown to have a more flirtatious side or even to have been overly impressed with nobility, her slip in the forest might have been more acceptable. Granted the Baker (James Corden) and his spouse don't seem to be an overly romantic couple but they do seem loyal in their quest to have a child.
Lastly the last few scenes which cover the deaths of several characters don't have the emotional impact they should. It all seems a little rushed as each character moves on to his/her new life. A tear here or there should have been shed for that which was lost.
There is a lot to like in Into the Woods but there is also a lot more that should have been better. If the playfulness and emotions inherent in Sondheim's songs had been delivered, the movie would not have been just good -- it would have been great. Then I could have scored the film higher than the 6 out of 10 I gave it.
Jackie K Cooper