Starring: James Corden, Emily Blunt, David Huttlestone, Lilla Crawford, Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Mackenzie Mauzy, Billy Magnussen, Johnny Depp
Rated PG for Thematic Elements, Fantasy Action and Peril, and Some Suggestive Material
If you haven't noticed, I quote/reference James Berardinelli a lot. This is because I like him a lot as a critic. I have a voracious appetite for his work and check his website daily to see if he has written anything new. Not only is he a good writer, he's very knowledgeable about film and knows what he's talking about.
In his review of the film version of "RENT," he said, in a nutshell, that it's usually not a good idea to directly lift a stage musical and put it on the screen. There is an intimacy between the stage actors and the audience which can't be replicated on screen, thus a replacement must be found. I liked the movie "RENT," although it may be because I saw it before I saw it on Broadway, which I subsequently did. Twice (you haven't seen a Broadway show until you've heard Frenchie Davis belt out a solo in the "Seasons of Love" reprise live on stage).
But that's beside the point. What I'm trying to say is that I know what he's talking about. "Into the Woods" seems to be a stage musical set to a green screen, and I couldn't help wondering how they did some of the songs on stage. Other times, it was plainly obvious. That would be a definite irritant if the story wasn't lame and the songs weren't so generic.
In other ways, the play has gone under some significant changes. According to Berardinelli, one important character has been omitted, changes the fate of another and tones down the sexual nature of two relationships (reportedly, composer Stephen Sondheim was not pleased with this). Not having seen the stage production, I can't comment on whether or not these tank the film, but I will tell you that they have not resulted in a movie that is worth seeing.
The Baker (Corden) and his wife (Blunt) are childless. This causes them great grief, which alerts them to The Witch (Streep). Apparently, The Witch was screwed over by The Baker's father (Simon Russell Beale) years ago, and she placed a curse upon the house that they lived in. In order to lift it, the couple has to find four things: a milk-white cow courtesy of Jack, from "Jack and the Beanstalk" (Huttlestone), a golden slipper that turns out to be owned by Cinderella (Kendrick), a red cloak from Little Red Riding Hood (Crawford) and golden hair from...ta da! Rapunzel (Mauzy). But the Witch has her own motives.
Of the actors, Emily Blunt and Chris Pine are worth mentioning. Yes, Meryl Streep is wonderful as always, but frankly, this is something she could do in her sleep. Emily Blunt is wonderful. This is the best and most touching performance she's given, and the film really takes off when she's on screen (which, thankfully, is the majority of the film). Chris Pine doesn't have a lot to do or much screen time, but he has a surprisingly good singing voice. Who knew? Also worth mentioning is Lilla Crawford, although for less positive reasons. Usually she's good, but there are times when she toes the line of being obnoxious.
If the first two thirds are lacking in energy and filled with cheesy CGI (it's the bad, grainy, creaky CGI that's obviously made on the cheap...see "Sherlock Holmes" for an example) and bad editing, then the film comes to a dead halt at the third half. I mean, it stops dead in its tracks. The characters essentially stand around wondering if they've made the right decisions. It's not cinematic, and director Rob Marshall should have realized that it wasn't going to work as written. It needed to be radically re-visualized (the same goes for the entire production, in fact) or drastically cut down.
This is a disappointment from Marshall. Both "Chicago" and "Memoirs of a Geisha" were just shy of brilliant, and while "Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides" was lame, it was better than this.