I Wish...

Once upon a time...

Disney made an adaptation of a musical you've either never heard of, or at least aren't very familiar with. It's released on Christmas Day with a family-friendly rating and is packed to the rafters with bankable movie stars and beloved fairy tale characters. I'm speaking of Into the Woods, the long-awaited adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's 1986 musical.

It interweaves the stories of Little Red Riding Hood, Jack (of beanstalk fame), Cinderella, and Rapunzel. They're off in their separate stories until a childless couple (a baker and his wife) pull everyone together in their quest to undo a spell put on them by a neighboring witch. The music and the orchestrations are lovely, and all of the actors are excellent at putting their own twisty spin on classic archetypes. Meryl Streep's witch may be nasty, but she loves her daughter. Little Red Riding Hood is more interested in cinnamon rolls than her granny's health.

It's a very pretty movie (and there's no way a theater production can achieve the same visual things that a movie can), and though things take a scary turn midway through, it never gets too intense. For newbies (especially those with kids), it's a pretty entertaining way to spend a part of your holiday season. The characters go well beyond their original stories, and all learn valuable lessons about their place in the world and the interconnectedness of all people.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Into the Woods: B

Once upon a time...

Disney made an adaptation of a musical you know by heart, and while it was competent (a feat in itself, given what a shitshow the rumors suggested it would be), it doesn't come anywhere near achieving what the source material does, and in the transition, winds up as a pretty disappointing final product.

Now, I'm not saying that everything in the play had to find its way into the movie; I'm not against cuts and changes. It's disappointing that the reprise of "Agony" is gone, but I don't much care that the narrator/old man is practically eliminated or that Jack doesn't sing goodbye to his cow anymore. But I do care when the underlying themes of the source material are discarded or mangled. This is a fully Disneyfied movie, which means it's done away with the parts of Into the Woods which satirizes, well, the Disneyfication of fairy tales.

Johnny Depp is pretty terrible as the wolf, hamming all the character's subtext into full on text for a frankly-too-young Little Red Riding Hood. The songs have been slowed down. The charm of the interweaving storylines of the opening song is lost to quick cuts between scenes. Rapunzel, far from dying, simply walks off the screen two-thirds of the way through and is never seen again.

Though Emily Blunt is terrific (as she always is) as the Baker's Wife, and Chris Pine is a wonderfully smarmy Prince Charming, the adaptation and directorial choices are hampered by the PG rating, and just don't go far enough to make this very worthwhile for fans of the show. I've spent years wishing for Into the Woods to be made into a big spectacle of a movie. And as the musical admonishes, you should be careful what you wish for, lest you get it.

Into the Woods: C+


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