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Into the Woods - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Into the Woods
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+
Music: B+
Special Effects: B-

Some elements of Into the Woods work better than others. If you're a huge fan of the Broadway musical on which it's based, or a big fan of musicals in general, it'll probably be worth watching. The same could not necessarily be said of general audiences. Musicals were not historically meant for niche audiences, but this one kind of is.

Indeed, it's the music that elevates it the most, which is unfortunately very difficult to show in any of the trailers, which strip all snippets of context and render them inert. In context, however, the songs turn out to be quite lovely; not one of them falls flat, and "No One Is Alone," performed near the end of the film, is downright touching.

And like many a Broadway musical, a huge portion of the verbal communication is done in song, presented with considerable pep, with spoken lines comparatively minimal. For those open to such things, the movie is thus quite fun from the beginning, even if it sags a tad in later scenes with an oddly rendered giant down from the beanstalk.

We're introduced immediately to the five fairy tales that get a good mashup in this story: the Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt), desperate to have a child and unable; Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) with her sadistic stepmother and stepsisters (Christine Baranski, Tammy Blanchard and Lucy Punch, all of then delightful); Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) locked in her doorless tower; Little Red Riding Hood (a quite impressive Lilla Crawford); and Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) with his beanstalk.

The one bringing all of these characters together is the Witch played by Meryl Streep -- finally showing that she can do a lot better than the lackluster job she offered in Mama Mia! (2008). Streep makes a great Witch in this movie, with just the right amount of comic touches, and an admirable amount of restraint considering her overblown costuming and makeup.

This woman has made a deal with the Baker and his wife: get her four objects she can use to reverse the curse that makes her an ugly witch, and she'll reverse the curse that keeps them from having children -- which she placed on them after the Baker's father stole beans from her garden. The four objects, naturally, are a lock of hair yellow as corn; a cape red as blood; a cow white as snow; and a golden shoe. How convenient that they should go searching into the woods and come across characters in possession of each of these things.

There are some added flourishes that seem superfluous, most notably Little Red Riding Hood, and particularly the Wolf in pursuit of her -- played by Johnny Depp with the oddest combination of canine and human characteristics. The makeup and effects team give him very werewolf-like hands but leave his face very human looking. It just comes across as weird, Depp's admittedly fun performance of it notwithstanding. It's also too bad an actress as great as Tracy Ullman is given so little to work with as Jack's mother.

Some scenes that have little to do with the plot still add to the fun of the movie, however. A duet between Cinderella's prince (Chris Pine) and Rapunzel's prince (Billy Magnussen), in which they compete for who is the most sick in love, is particularly delightful.

There are times when the effects leave a bit to be desired, most notably when the giant shows up, adding little to the story. We see little of the giant, and get odd forced perspective camera tricks that don't quite work. A lot more effort seems to have been put into the quite lavish production design than in the special effects, of which there is a fair amount.

It's the characters that matter most here, though, or perhaps they matter second most, just behind the music. Into the Woods could have been better, but it still wouldn't have been for everyone -- and it'll still work fine as it is now for those it is for.

James Corden, Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep add some twisted charm to the moderately entertaining INTO THE WOODS.

Overall: B
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