This holiday season saw some pretty big box office hits, including the final Hobbit movie The Battle of the Five Armies, the true story of Louis Zamperini Unbroken, and Disney’s adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods. I went to see the Hobbit movie and Unbroken with my brothers over Christmas break, but Emily and I went to see Into the Woods in Chicago.
Before I go into any detail about the movie, I have to describe the theater where we saw Into the Woods. It was an AMC theater off of Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Instead of regular movie theater seats, each chair was essentially a spacious leather armchair that reclined so you could lie back with your feet up as you watched the movie. Every other armrest could be raised to form a loveseat if you happened to be on a date and need to cuddle during the movie. It was by far the most luxurious and comfortable movie going experience either of us had ever had. Regular movie theaters just won’t be enough anymore.
But the only thing better than those chairs was the movie. The popularity of Stephen Sondheim’s musical gave Disney high standards for a movie adaptation. Things has to be adjusted, songs had to be cut, but the resulting movie stayed true to the themes of the original musical. And the cast was amazing.
The story combines several fairytales, from Cinderella and Rapunzel to Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk. The opening musical number “Into the Woods” explains the motivations for all the characters. They each wish for something—Cinderella to go to the ball, a baker and his wife to have a child, Jack to save his pet cow, Red Riding Hood to bring bread to her grandmother, etc. Then a witch appears, who wishes for something herself. She gives the baker and his wife a way to have a child, so they set out to collect a list of items, a journey that crosses their paths with the other characters. Through various songs each character finally gets what they wished for, only to find that what they wished for isn’t what they thought it would be.
That is the heart of the story—that what you wish for isn’t always what you need or even want. Each of the characters learns this lesson the hard way, making it very anti-fairytale in some ways. The movie preserves this lesson from the musical despite the changes it had to make, which is why the movie is still good despite any changes.
Another reason why the movie was so wonderful was the incredible cast. Disney cast some big names in this film—Johnny Depp as the Wolf, Anna Kendrick as Cinderella, Chris Pine as Prince Charming, Meryl Streep as the Witch, Emily Blunt as the Baker’s wife—but these big names proved to be more than marketing schemes. Everyone cast, both celebrities and actors/singers from Broadway, proved more than up for the challenge of the songs. The songs are all incredible. (And who knew Chris Pine could sing??) Emily Blunt might be my favorite, but Anna Kendrick is also great, proving that she can sing classic musicals and not just a cappella pop songs a la Pitch Perfect. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack nonstop for several days now and I still can’t get enough. Stephen Sondheim wrote amazing songs for this musical and the cast really did them justice.
If you haven’t seen Into the Woods, I highly suggest that you do. Even if you don’t like musicals, I think you would enjoy it. And if you’re a musical/Broadway snob I still think you’d like it. The movie made changes, but it preserved the heart of the story, and the songs are great. It’s a fun movie and I want to go see it again before it leaves theaters.