Have you ever wondered what would happen if you took all of the Disney stories and smashed them into one another until they didn’t really have any identity anymore but took on this vague redundancy and became, for lack of a better word, stupid? I personally have never wondered this. I never wanted to wonder this. Why would anyone wonder this? Now, I can’t speak for Sondheim, who penned the famed musical, but this preposterous film adaptation, penned by James Lapine and directed by that hack known as Rob Marshall is so void of texture that it feels grossly underdeveloped, lazy and pointless.
The more I think about what this could have been and what it turned out to be the more I start to seethe at the mouth.
You see, Disney has a special place in my heart. So do Broadway musicals. So do dark, twisted incarnations of what we think we know and love. So, seeing our Disney heroines thrust into a dark and twisted fantasy wrapped in music that swells from the girth of all things ‘Les Miserables’ was something I was, without question, looking forward to. ‘Into the Woods’ was one of the films I personally could not wait to set my eyes on. I expected something grand, something provoking, something challenging, something memorable. What I got was something that felt too withdrawn, withered almost, underdeveloped, not reaching the heights it was setting for itself and, sadly, forgettable.
All that potential was squandered, and it makes me sick to my stomach.
I have not seen the stage musical, so I cannot compare, although I’ve read about some of the ‘family friendly’ changes that were made to this production, and so I can say that this film does not represent what Sondheim originally intended. What baffles me the most about this is the fact that they went to such great lengths to clean this up for families and yet they still left in a sizable amount of innuendo that makes me question the direction they wanted to take this. If they were going to try and keep Sondheim’s darker vision intact, why not go all the way and actually shoot for at least a PG-13 rating, kill off the characters you needed to and keep his vision alive? Why alter it just so much but not enough to the point where it finds itself somewhere in the middle of what it was and what you wanted it to be and now it has no identity and is just awkward and uncomfortable?
And why is this film so dungy and dull, visually? Why is everything so dark and unfortunate? I understand that this is a darker tale, a more depressing one, but even ‘Les Miserables’ was beautiful to look at. Instead of capitalizing on the general lavish stylings of Disney productions, this minimalist approach makes everything feel so ugly and dull.
And don’t even get me started on the story. This is what happens when you try too hard to mash everything together but lack the ability to edit and make it all flow. The base storyline (about finding items to feed to a cow to reverse a spell) makes no sense and feels so preposterous it can’t be a real story. Like, who would make this up? Who thinks this sounds even remotely interesting and not in the slightest absolutely silly?
The cast is good, though, for the most part. They don’t have a whole lot to do, but most of them make the most of what they do have. James Corden grounds the film, but he’s also saddled with a lifeless character. Anna Kendrick sings beautifully, but does nothing else. Meryl Streep is all sorts of over the top, but she sells her main moments (except for that rap, which was awful). Emily Blunt is the lifeblood of the film and is the sole MVP, but even her character feels skeletal, which is sad since the character itself SHOULD have filled the screen.
Pedophile Johnny Depp is almost as creepy as regular Johnny Depp and was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the worst thing about this movie.
But, it’s not really a knock to be the worst thing in a movie that is just full of nothing special, so it’s all kind of ‘the worst thing’ if you really think about it. Nothing really works here. It’s a lot of the same thing over and over with no real arc worth investing in, and when all is said and done the central theme about children listening and growing and parents and adults being careful how they raise those children never comes across except for in the words of a song, which is nicely sung but fails to make an impact.