There’s a humorous irony in Disney showing the “Cinderella” trailer prior to “Into the Woods.” Their new “Cinderella” adaptation appears to be the exact kind of staid fairytale that “Into the Woods” viciously lampoons.

Into the Woods

Rave and Quality 16
Walt Disney Pictures

“Into the Woods” is a stage musical that many have great reverence for — it’s arguably one of the best works of the world’s greatest living composers, Stephen Sondheim. It’s an auditory achievement with a sprawling soundtrack composed almost entirely of variations on one five-note melody. It’s also an homage to, a crossover of, a parody of and a criticism of classic high-fantasy fairy tales; more specifically, “Cinderella,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Rapunzel.” “Into the Woods” ’s greatest quality is its ability to use these fairytale tropes to make comments and criticisms about very real aspects of human nature, and the film has far more emotional depth than any of the tales it draws inspiration from.

Disney’s “Into the Woods” is a passable, but highly abridged and uncreative adaptation of this Broadway classic. It has moments of brilliance that match the stage production’s emotional impact, mainly due to its excellent ensemble cast.

It’s only fitting that cinema royalty Meryl Streep (“August: Osage County”) leads the cast as the Witch, since Broadway queen Bernadette Peters originated the role. Streep is as confident, hilarious and musically gifted as you would expect. More surprising is the astonishing performance of Chris Pine (“Star Trek: Into Darkness”) as Cinderella’s Prince Charming. Already an accomplished womanizer in the “Star Trek” franchise, Pine pulls off this overwhelmingly narcissistic part with flying colors. The third, and greatest standout performance is that of the Baker’s Wife (Emily Blunt, “Edge of Tomorrow”). Blunt shows a powerful emotional side in “Into The Woods” previously unseen in her repertoire. Blunt’s ability to broadcast her character’s desperation and desire on screen even outshines Streep’s at some points.

Unlike 2012’s “Les Miserables” screen adaptation, there is not a single weak link in the cast in terms of singing or acting (well, maybe Johnny Depp’s performance as the Wolf, but he’s onscreen for five minutes tops so it’s not terribly harmful).

It’s a shame that this cast did not perform in a more complete adaptation of the source material. While the film’s content is slavishly faithful to the original script and music, two hours is simply not long enough to encompass the three-and-a-half-hour stage production’s musical or narrative breadth. It’s easy to imagine the conversation in which the panel of stuffy Disney executives limited the film to two hours, but the fact that the cuts are understandable doesn’t make them any less disappointing or damaging to the narrative. Several of the most important songs in the show, like “No More,” the reprise of “Agony,” and both the Act 1 finale and Act 2 prologue are missing. They’re not just excellent show-tunes, they feature lyrics crucial to the narrative. The entirety of the second act feels rushed and lacking thanks to these important omissions. The relegation of the entirety of the musical finale of the show offscreen is criminal. The ending is critical; it should have been seen, not just heard.

Further confusing is the exclusion of an important character death in the second act, instead having said character “run away.” This significantly lessens the impact of the succeeding song, which is meant to be a song about the death of a loved one. It’s a strange choice especially considering the other deaths that remained in the film. Hmm . . .

The 1991 video recording of the original Broadway cast remains by far the best way to watch “Into the Woods” on a screen. It’s available on Amazon and YouTube for rental, so those seeking to experience this classic should investigate those options before this one.

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