'Into the Woods': What the Critics Are Saying
Rob Marshall's adaptation of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Broadway fairytale musical stars Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman and Johnny Depp
Into the Woods, out Thursday, is Rob Marshall's big-screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Broadway musical that weaves together various Brothers Grimm fairytales for an exploration of the happily-ever-aftermath of wish fulfillment, as recognizable characters like Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella and Rapunzel face the murky consequences of their moral compromises.
The Disney release — boasting a star-studded cast that includes Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman and Johnny Depp — is expected to earn $27 million to $30 million over the four-day holiday weekend.
Read what top critics are saying about Into the Woods:
The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney writes, "This twisty fairy-tale mash-up shows an appreciation for the virtues of old-fashioned storytelling, along with a welcome dash of subversive wit. It benefits from respect for the source material, enticing production values and a populous gallery of sharp character portraits from a delightful cast." Of the relatively mature themes for a Disney release, "Lapine, adapting his own book for the show, has retained the balance of dark and light, shaping a cohesive story of resilience and maturation out of multiple strands without leaning too hard on the sentiment. What was played for gallows humor onstage is often treated more earnestly here, and the violence and tragedy are suggested more than shown. But there's enough Brothers Grimm in the tone to offset charges of Disney-fication. ... This is a show whose distinct halves require a significant tonal shift that not every production navigates fluidly. Marshall does well enough, even if the momentum falters after the buoyancy and cleverness of the first hour. But that's also partly due to the thematic clutter of diffuse material that has always tried to cover more ideas than the fanciful conceit can fully support."
Of the cast, Rooney says, "The actors' incisive character work impresses across the board, as does their musicality, and unlike 2012's turgid Les Miserables, they make it look effortless. Streep is quite wonderful, delivering something far richer than her karaoke turn in the clunky Mamma Mia!. ... She reinvents this role from scratch, bringing powerful vocals, mischievous comedic instincts, bold physicality and raw feeling to the Witch. Her entrances and exits alone are priceless." Additionally, "Corden and Blunt have disarming chemistry, in both the comic and romantic sense," "Kendrick has never been more luminous, and her big song, 'On the Steps of the Palace,' is among the highlights," "Pine is a hoot, preening and posing with self-satisfaction," "Magnussen is equally good" and "the younger actors are excellent, both nailing their signature songs. Huttlestone captures the dreamy wonder and excitement of "Giants in the Sky," while Crawford is appealingly precocious." Yet Depp as the Wolf is only "an enjoyable cameo with little impact."
Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips notes, "Here's a relief: It's good. It's also a little harried. The stage version always was heavily plotted verging on chaos, and director Marshall tends to push the camera too close to the bustle. But it works. It's full of wit and feeling, guided by strong performers clearly devoted to the material and to Sondheim's sparkling craftsmanship. ... I wish the film were 10 or 15 minutes longer; as is, it's a tightly packed 124 minutes, but there's some connective tissue missing between the material's violent mood swings. Marshall's camera eye is more functional than inspired, and too often he contents himself with scrambling after whoever's singing while skipping or running or arguing. He's not one for careful composition." Still, it features "a large ensemble, constantly in motion."
The Washington Post's Stephanie Merry explains, "Despite some streamlining for time and ratings purposes, director Marshall’s adaptation is not all kid’s stuff with singing teapots and friendly mice. There are plenty of dark detours. And the bad news? The thing that made the 1987 Broadway production somewhat problematic — its sprawling array of characters running on a hamster wheel of plot points — is still here, too. Yes, the concept is clever, the performances are strong and the music is brilliant. But there’s something conspicuously missing amid all the chaos: a heart. ... Some of the musical’s superfans will feel shortchanged by the movie no matter what, but you have to give credit where it’s due. The adaptation is pretty faithful to the original — for better and worse."
The New York Observer's Rex Reed calls it "another example of concept over coherence, but the entertainment value is considerable. ... The book is a maze in which there is no door marked 'EXIT,' the best songs like 'Children Will Listen' and 'You Are Not Alone' are scattered, like bits of dialogue, and sound derivative of songs from other Sondheim scores. Still, there is much to admire here, from the candyfloss costumes to the tricky special effects and the thrill of hearing everyone sing surprisingly well. ... [But] there is something wrong with any dramatized fairy tale set to music if, when you go away, the score is so forgettable that there’s nothing to hum but the beanstalk."
USA Today's Claudia Puig, on the other hand, says, "Though fans of the Broadway musical may find the screen adaptation tamped down and lacking in detail, the film features stunning production design and a charming cast. The songs in this re-imagining of Grimm fairy tales are well-orchestrated and, for the most part, strikingly sung," despite a lack of cohesion. "The standout roles go to the villains: Streep as the witch who stole Rapunzel and sequestered her in a tower and Depp as the leering Big Bad Wolf."