Amanda Doughty ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
In the past few years, movie musicals have gained a sudden rush of popularity. Les Miserables was highly successful (and even won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy/Musical) when it came out in 2012, and the trailer for The Last Five Years took over the Internet when it was released a few weeks ago.
Taking advantage of this popularity, Disney decided to adapt Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical Into the Woods into a film. From the moment it was announced, the project immediately sparked controversy: how could Disney stay true to a musical that was so dark? Even Sondheim revealed he was skeptical about the film last June. He later revoked his statements, but they still struck fear into the hearts of the fans of the musical.
Very few, especially musical purists, expected this adaptation to be good. They thought it would take a dark story and make it a traditional, happy-go-lucky Disney film. They were wrong. From the first chord to the grand finale, this film delivers. It’s a perfect blend of the traditional musical and a modern adaptation on film. It exceeded everyone’s expectations.
That’s not to say it’s entirely true to the musical, but the changes Disney made are minor and actually make quite a bit of sense in hindsight, as they can’t kill off a princess they still advertise nor can they have two characters commit adultery and still appeal to children. Given that this is normally a three-hour musical, sacrifices had to be made, but the sacrifices barely take away from the quality of the film.
A good portion of this film’s appeal is the cinematography. With a story full of giants, beanstalks, wolves, girls with impossibly long hair, and castles, this could have easily been a challenge. It’s certainly a challenge to portray on stage. But the film does a beautiful job at portraying these elements through lighting and a clearly prioritized special effects budget. The beanstalk is absolutely beautiful, as is the willow tree that contains the soul of Cinderella’s mother. They don’t try to make the fantastical real, but adapt their setting around the fantastical elements. It leaves audience members fully absorbed.
In regards to acting, this film overall is incredibly well cast. A majority of the weak links, like Emily Blunt’s singing voice, are made up for in other parts of the film, like Emily Blunt’s incredible comedic timing and chemistry with her husband (played by the fantastic James Corden). Johnny Depp is perfectly creepy, though a tad underused. Anna Kendrick gives a believable and heartfelt performance as Cinderella. And Daniel Huttlestone, though not the scene-stealer he was as Gavroche in Les Miserables, plays the innocent child role well.
It’s no surprise, though, that one of the main standouts of this film is Meryl Streep. Showing clear vocal improvement since Mamma Mia, Streep steals every scene she’s in. Every award she has and will be nominated for is well earned, and not just given because she’s Meryl Streep.
What is surprising, though, is that she is not the best performance in the movie. That title goes to a surprising dark horse: Chris Pine as Cinderella’s prince. He takes a relatively boring role and makes him extraordinary, taking advantage of every possible moment to show how the wild dynamics of this character. The highlight of the entire movie is the duet between him and Rapunzel’s prince (played by Billy Magnussen). It’s absolutely hysterical, and truly shows just how ridiculous the figure of “Prince Charming” is.
Overall, Into the Woods is a respectful adaptation with beautiful cinematography and great performances. If more movie/musical adaptations were this good, then there’d be a significant growth in respect for this genre.
Overall Grade: A-