Into the Woods (8/10)
by Tony Medley
Runtime 120 minutes.
OK for children.
Bringing a loved-by-some (but to me, prosaic) Steven Sondheim musical to
the screen in which every song sounds like the same un-hummable melody
(even though it won a 1987 Tony for Best Score over Phantom of the
Opera, go figure), this is still an entertaining combination of
disparate fairy tales.
They are Cinderella (Anna Kendrick with Chris Pine playing the Prince),
Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford with Johnny Depp playing the
Wolf), Jack and the Beanstock (Daniel Huttlestone), and Rapunzel (MacKenzie
Mauzy). Added is another new fairy tale about a baker and his wife
(James Corden and Emily Blunt) who have had a curse put on them by the
Witch (Meryl Streep).
The casting of Kendrick as Cinderella is a little puzzling. Cinderella
is supposed to be so beautiful she can capture the heart of the prince.
Kendrick is to Cinderella as Vanessa Redgrave is to Guinevere. Forget
acting, these women are supposed to be so beautiful they are to die for.
That’s neither Anna nor Vanessa, even though some might find them
Despite the music, this is a film with outstanding performances,
cinematography (Dion Beebe), and Oscar®-quality production design by
Dennis Gassner’s magical locations. One of the locations is in one of
England’s oldest forests. But there are others, like the ancient
forest of the Ashridge Estate one of the oldest, most historic wildlife
areas in the region, which was used as the setting for the song “Giants
in the Sky.”
Windsor Great Park, located on the border of Berkshire and Surrey, was
another. Indeed the setting and cinematography of the forest are really
a bigger part of the movie than each of the individual characters.
It makes for a charming, lighthearted film for about 90 minutes. Then it
turns dark and profound, epitomized by the song, “No One is Alone.”
While the lyrics are very good, the melody still sounded to me like all
of the other songs in the film. Sondheim is a terrific lyricist. His
first credit was for the lyrics for “West Side Story,” when he was but
27 years of age. But the beautiful music was written by Leonard
Bernstein. Sondheim’s lyrics for Into the Woods are exceptionally
good, but they would be even more wonderful if sung to music written by
someone with a better feel for a good melody. Richard Rodgers he is not.
Even so, Sondheim fans will probably find themselves in musical heaven.
However, the film does not have to rely on the music. I normally don’t
like fantasy, but I liked this. That said, this is a movie that begs for