There seems to be a resurgence in the movie musical genre, though seldom does it seem like any of these films are any good. In the heyday of the movie musical, there were films like The Sound of Music, Carousel, South Pacific, and Singin’ in the Rain. Gone are the days where the actors in a movie musical are expected to be as good at singing as they are acting.
We see this a lot in recent films emerging, in the last few years. Just look at the hot mess that is Annie, with horrific singing all around (excluding Jamie Foxx – Quvenzhané Wallis, while cute, did not have the vocal chops to carry this film), and nearly as horrible acting and writing. The live action performance of Peter Pan with Girls star, Allison Williams, wasn’t much better, and let’s not even get into the catastrophe that was Les Miserables! Of course, none of these productions had the delightful and multitalented, Anna Kendrick, in them. I wanted, to like Into the Woods, because of her. I wanted it to be spectacular…and it was. Into the Woods lived up to all my hopes and expectations as a movie musical, and as a film.
Before we get too much further into this review, this needs to be said. No one can ever or will ever be as good as Bernadette Peters, as The Witch. This is one of her most definitive roles, and I don’t care who the actress is, they will never be able to top Peters’ performance. Let us also note that Peters had a fun role in the original Annie movie musical, and the new film, wisely decided to not have anyone in that same character. Peters is a Broadway and film beast, and nobody can replace her!
Now that that is out of the way, who knew that Meryl Streep could sing so well? She certainly did not seem to have such vocal prowess in Mamma Mia. While she will never be as good as Bernadette Peters, if there has to be someone besides Peters playing The Witch, I’m glad it is Meryl. She is delightful, emotional, and fun, with some of the better vocals, in the film.
Of course, Meryl is not the best singer, in the film. That honor goes to both Anna Kendrick, as Cinderella, and young Broadway star, Lilla Crawford, as Little Red Riding Hood. This dynamic duo of female vocal power, are fantastic. Kendrick is always superb, with the voice of an angel, and Crawford, while making her film debut, personifies Red in the most perfect of ways. The character is a bit of a smart ass, and Crawford nails it with charm and aplomb.
Into the Woods is a masterpiece, by Stephen Sondheim, and though the show’s sexual content and violence is cut down a bit, the film isn’t that different from the stage show. Having Sondheim heavily involved and James Lapine adapting the script, ensured that the integrity of the stage play is maintained, within the film. Rob Marshall directing, with his background in movie musicals (Chicago, anyone?) and choreography, is also the perfect choice, and thankfully, he did not make the actors perform their songs, live, a choice that sank many of the performances in Les Miserables.
There are so many great performances, it’s hard to find anything negative to say, about this film. Emily Blunt is terrific, as the Baker’s wife. Who knew she could sing? She has a beautiful singing voice, and she’s always a competent actor, so she is easily able to carry the show (as I see the Baker’s wife, as the lead, along with The Witch, though truthfully, the Baker is also the lead, as he is relevant throughout the entire film). With the Baker’s wife on the hunt for a series of objects, she and her husband, the Baker (James Corden), must find in order to lift a curse put on them by The Witch, the amusement at her frequent trips throughout the woods, even as her husband insists she returns home, make the film enjoyable. The Baker’s wife, along with the two princes, Cinderella’s prince (Chris Pine),and Rapunzel’s prince (Billy Magnussen), singing the song “Agony,” provide a welcome sense of comic relief. Little Red Riding Hood, is also a comedic character, until the darkness falls over the woods and nearby villages, following the weddings of the princes, to their respective brides.
Speaking of the Baker, James Corden has a natural likability about him, much like his character, Craig Owens, in Doctor Who. Even in his most unlikable moments, you root for him to make the right decision. His singing voice is also pleasant to the ear, as is young Daniel Huttlestone’s, as Jack, though he is not nearly as good as his young counterpart, Lilla Crawford. Even the smaller roles feature a delight of known performers, from Johnny Depp as the creepy, pedophile-y Wolf to Tracey Ullman, as Jack’s mother, who consistently bops her young son on the head, for not listening to her. Christine Baranski is a staple in movie musicals, thanks to her excellent singing voice. She is perfect as Cinderella stepmother, while Tammy Blanchard and Lucy Punch do well as her stepsisters.
Truthfully though, it is the women that steal the show. Anna Kendrick steals every scene she is in, with her beautiful singing and excellent acting. Meryl Streep’s Witch, is a bit screechy for my liking, but her depth when it comes to her love for Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy), even as she holds her prisoner, is touching and her singing shows her depth, as a vocal performer. Speaking of Rapunzel, there are not a lot of scenes with her, though Mauzy is more than satisfactory, in the role. Lilla Crawford is a sheer joy to watch and her singing, cannot be beat. For her first film role, she certainly knows how to get a reaction. Keep an eye on her. She’s bound to go far.
With an exceptional score that only Sondheim could write, and visuals that emphasize the phantasmagorical nature of the production, Into the Woods is everything you could want in a movie musical and more!