Into the Woods: The Hollywood Version

I finally got around to watching the new version of Into the Woods the other night. It had been a movie I’d thought about seeing in the theaters, just because I love the musical so much, but that never came together, and so I missed it. I’ve seen the filmed Broadway version many times, and it was actually the first musical I saw on Broadway back during its original run with Burnadette Peters, so it’s one I have a fair bit of history with.

How would it fare in the adaptation process?

In some ways, it fared very well. In others, not so much. Which is pretty much in line with what I’d heard going into it. That said, I have to start out with a big disclaimer: because I’m such a fan of the original, I think in many ways it was impossible for me to really love this adaptation. It was inevitable that I would be comparing it to the thing I loved, and any change or difference would be, by definition, “not the thing I love.”

That’s a hard way to start out a viewing experience.

That said, I still felt like there were a few areas where the adaptation fell short. First and foremost? Running time. I get that musicals are longer than family movies, and so they felt the need to shorten things down for a movie version, but the bulk of that shortening came at the expense of the second act, which is where the meat of the musical really lies. For the first act, most everything is present and accounted for (except the narrator, which I’ll get to in a moment). But the second act just felt rushed. There was no real way for all the characters to get what they wanted and then appreciate it. Instead, they got what they wanted, paused for a second, and the second giant showed up.

There was no need to do this.

It would have been just as simple to have them all come home from their adventures, have them be happy, and fade to a “one year later” title. Why does this matter? It matters because the movie tried to make this story into one single plot arc, instead of two separate ones that mirror each other and give us more insight into both of them. The first act of Into the Woods is all about the fairy tale endings. The second act is all about what comes next. In the movie? It’s all a jumbled mess, which is a shame.

it’s a principle that can also be seen by the lack of any real reprise of a song. Again, Sondheim has songs show up more than once for a reason. The reprise contrasts with the first, bringing new meaning to the work. Into the Woods shows up at the beginning of each act, because going into the woods is different each time. The Princes’ Agony songs tell us a good deal more about the Princes than is possible through simple plot. I could go on about this, but I don’t have time.

Now, about that narrator . . .  The movie’s use of narration was completely superfluous, as is so often the case with narration. It was there to tell us things we already knew. The whole point of a narrator in the original is to bring more of the fairy tale feeling to the scene, and then to riff and deconstruct that in the second act. None of that made the transition to the movie. Instead, we had an idiotic narrator telling us things about fairy tales everyone already knows. It was a serious irritant throughout, and I didn’t even get the self satisfaction of seeing him get killed.

Woe is me.

There are other nits I could pick. (Why have the baker’s father show up in the second act just for a moment, but still not do the No More number?) but I won’t. I actually enjoyed a good deal of the movie, despite what this review makes it sound like. The singing was well done, Streep did a solid job as the witch (though she was no Bernadette), the acting was good, the effects were superb. Overall, I walked away from the movie mainly wishing they could have taken the time to adapt the whole musical, instead of just the Cliffsnotes version of it.

Which is probably a sign that (as I said to begin with) I love the original far too much for me to properly appreciate the movie. Such is life.

7 out of 10 for me.

What did you think?

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