When Witches, Ghosts, and Wolves Appear: Into the Woods Review
By: Meg Humphrey
Let me preface this review by saying that Into the Woods is one of my absolute favorite musicals. I saw it on stage during my first year in college and haven’t gotten enough since then. I know all of the songs by heart and the lessons it teaches are ingrained in me. When I heard it was receiving a magical big screen makeover, I was excited. I was still excited going to the theater as the reviews were mostly positive and unsurprising (e.g. sexual themes toned down, removed some of the deeper complexities of the lessons, etc.). I knew it had to be changed in order to make it palatable for a Disney PG rating. I saw a Sunday afternoon showing about 10 days after it had come out and lo and behold, the theater was majority children with their parents and elderly people who looked like regular theater goers – the audience Disney expected.
I will briefly echo the sentiment I’ve seen in almost every review: what was up with Johnny Depp’s part? I felt like the Wolf, the most obvious sexual predator in fairy tales, did not have any of his creepiness toned down. In fact, that was the most uncomfortable, molestation-vibe portrayal I have ever seen of “Hello, Little Girl.” I was just confused that they would pump up the gross factor for this, but then dull down other negative aspects of the story (like the full extent of the Princes’ philandering).
I was disappointed that the various incarnations of “Into the Woods” were not really repeated throughout the story. The magical part of the introduction and its reprises is how well they are woven together despite knowing that they were far apart. It’s one of the things that the musical is known for. I would have rather the movie go split screen than take such long pauses to transition between scenes. It also lost some of the ways the musical explained small changes, like the Witch losing her powers when she became beautiful again, and once again, drove home the messages about the danger of greed and wishes.
Meryl Streep did a wonderful job, but I was a thrown off by how unbalanced the Witch is. In the other renditions I’ve seen, the Witch isn’t eccentric or unhinged, but rather clever and cunning, but just really self absorbed. I did really enjoy the dynamic between the Baker and his Wife. I felt like that had a fleshed out portrayal about their irritations and fears with each other as they try to follow the Witch’s commands.
Overall, I felt like it was a good screen adaptation. My criticisms come from a place that’s wrapped in my personal preferences and attachment to the tale. It’s no replacement for the full theater production, but it was beautiful to watch, the singing was quality, and I would pay the full price of a movie ticket just to watch the “Agony” number on repeat.