Into the Woods is a fractured fairy tale that should have been more fun. Shrek was after all.
The adapted play has a smashing opening, a touching end, but far too much sag in the middle for viewers to be patient without the zing of the action playing out on a stage right in front of them. This is a particular challenge for young people, who parents might naturally be tempted to bring to a movie focused on Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood.
They should hesitate for smaller children, as each of these beloved characters faces not just spells being cast, but the all-too-human fallout from their foibles. San Diegans nonetheless though are likely to have a natural curiosity about Into the Woods, given its launching pad, The Old Globe in Balboa Park, and the heights the musical reached on Broadway, before it became a standard in theater revivals.
The delight here is Chris Pine, who provides the only laugh-out-loud moments — as a prince all too aware of his charms — in a movie that should have more of them. Meryl Streep, is of course, Meryl Streep, as the Witch, but Emily Blunt has touching moments too as the Baker’s Wife, and the eye-catching Daniel Huttlestone, who played Gavroche in Les Miserables, charms as the hapless Jack.
Musical theater geeks may not warm to the changes in Into the Woods as it shifts from stage to screen – here’s a breakdown from a fan’s parsing of the movie based on the soundtrack, available on Spotify for days before the film’s official Christmas release. But those who want to be exposed to the art of a true American original, Stephen Sondheim, may enjoy this opportunity.
This just might not be the best season for the musical fan though – a subpar Into the Woods, an Annie reboot that’s been described as a “toxic mess” and television’s widely derided Peter Pan live show, may make them just reach for DVDs of the best musicals of yesteryear to meet their sing-a-long needs.
Into the Woods, a Disney film, is open in wide release in theaters throughout San Diego County.
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