I en-joy mu-sicals. [pause for horns]. Into the Woods is a mu-sical. [pause, horns, louder] Into the Woods has mu-sic! [pause, horns, triumph] Me-lo-dic words equal muu-sic!! [cue light strings] Music, mu-sic, Into the Woods, into the woods they romp and repeat with sing-song cadences dances and beats and Cordens and Streeps and woods into which must flow music, mu-sic, musical mu-sic, wood-winded music, longwinded music, re-pe-ta-tive mu-sic, thematic’ly hazy, emphatic’ly lazy but mu-sic, mu-sical, muse I can, muse I could, if I must, then I should get into “wouldn’t”s and into the “would”s and the “yes”’s and “no”’s and the highs and the lows and the cons and the pros of the con-cept and prose of the show that we chose to re-view (did you no-tice its name? it goes): [deep breath, whole cast in unison] Into the Woods.
With that out of my system: I can’t say I understand the attention Into the Woods is getting. That’s not to say that it’s bad — despite my snark, it really is a competent, generally nice film, and while I found the music surprisingly grating in places, it still makes for some lighthearted fun. But given the incredible lineup and (supposedly) masterful source material, “generally nice” and “some fun” is muted praise. I question the source material because, for all the magic promised by its new-twist-on-classic-stories premise, it rarely carried the revisionist, inventive thrill I’d expected. There are hints of cleverness, especially when casting a critical lens on fabled masculinity (Johnny Depp’s wolf is downright creepy, and Chris Pine’s riff on the “charming prince” archetype is hilarious.) But these unexpected reversals hardly comprise the bulk of the story: for every subversive moment, there are a dozen others which either reiterate the same old tropes, or are too vague to be provocative (“No one is alone…so the enemy has his reasons too…so…um…yeah, forget it, carry on with the killing.”) Having read a few essays about Sondheim’s original work, it seems like the shiny Disney paint job obscured some of his sharper points for the sake of being family friendly. Which would be fine, really, if it had committed to it. But what’s left is both too visibly cynical to be an unabashed joyride, and too reserved to be anything else; it’s oddly uneven. With stronger melodies, a gutsier script, or maybe even just fewer repetitions of “into the woods”, it might have been great: the cast is talented and clearly game for anything. As is, it’s pretty forgettable.
Mini ep 5/6 of the week is live at: