Into the Woods (movie)

January 2, 2015

I brag about one thing I’ve done more than any other. More than being a bestselling author, more than hanging out with George R.R. Martin.  The thing I brag about most:  getting to see the original production of Into the Woods on Broadway with Bernadette Peters.  This musical is becoming one of the great classics, and Peters’ basically owns the role of the Witch.  I feel like, just by being an observer, I’m a participant in a classic moment of American theater. I imagine it being like seeing Ethel Merman play Annie Oakley or Robert Preston as Howard Hill.  It was pure luck that I was there, but I’m incredibly happy about it nonetheless.

So you can imagine that I approached the movie with a great deal of trepidation.  I had the perfect Into the Woods experience once.  That would never happen again.  Why was I even here?

Turns out, I didn’t need to be worried.  The open song made me cry, just like it always does, because it’s perfect and beautiful and one of the most high-energy openings in any musical anywhere.  The entire first act is just about perfect, really.  Great singing, great story, great cast.  Loved it.  “Agony” is worth the price of admission all by itself. (And not just because for a split second you see Chris Pine singing it, and think, “Captain Kirk is singing this!” and it’s so very appropriate…)

Unfortunately, the bliss was not to last because the filmmakers took a bit of a machete to the second act, much to the detriment of the play’s very rich themes and meanings.  I’m very curious — how did the movie go over for someone who doesn’t know the stage version like the back of their hand?  Because yeah, I know this show, and I missed what was missing.

SPOILERS:  Just a brief discussion of what was cut.  I know everyone’s mourning the loss of “Agony (Reprise),” which is one of the cattiest, most brilliant bits of story ever, and I would have just adored seeing Pine and Magnussen chew the scenery with it.  But the song I missed most was “So Happy.”  This is the start of the second act, and it resets all the characters with their “new normal.”  It lets us all catch our breaths after the manic energy at the end of act one.  But more than that it shows us a) what our characters have to lose now, and b) that not everything is perfect after all.  By skipping that, the second act arrives abruptly with the Giant’s Wife smashing everything, and it feels like it’s come out of left field.  And then there’s Rapunzel, who actually apparently gets a happily ever after in this version when none of the other characters do, which doesn’t feel right at all.  This made the whole second act kind of a big “WUT?”

Anyway.  The singing and music and acting was all just fine.  Go for the music.  Go for “Agony.”  And then go look up the PBS American Playhouse video of the original Broadway production.  Because Bernadette Peters.



13 Responses to “Into the Woods (movie)”

  1. Okay so I just commented on FB, and THEN read your post here. No “So Happy”? WHAH?? Meaning I won’t get to hear “We’re so happy you’re so happy. Just as long as you stay happy, we’ll stay happy.”?? Boo!
    And I’m delighted that you got to see Bernadette Peters as the Witch too! Incredible, I agree. I still remember the giant sitting on the theater outside.
    I’ll let you know what I think when I see it. My husband was in a production of it here–a tiny theater in Lakewood–not a good production, but at least he understood why I love that show so.
    And Happy New Year!

  2. I think it was at least 20 years ago that I saw Into the Woods as a community theater production. I remember utterly loving it, but I haven’t seen it since, mostly because the opportunity hasn’t presented itself. I loved the movie, but barely remembered how the story wen so I didn’t have the pain of knowing something had been cut. However, I remember thinking the pacing was very off in the second act, and there was a section that dragggggggedddd terribly–most likely due to the machete-ing you described.

  3. Shara Says:

    Yup, I’m jealous! I’m hoping to see this movie not this weekend, but next. When I was a senior in high school, we put this musical on, and I was Cinderella’s evil step-mother. 🙂 As a result, I watched the PBS video of the original stage version multiple times with the cast. Love this show….

  4. amiegibbons15 Says:

    Okay, thank-you. I wanted to ask someone who saw it on stage if they changed the story or cut parts out because a lot of it felt disjointed and clumsy. My impression was they were very heavy handed with the lessons and points in it, but it was so much so that it was obviously on purpose. And yeah, I recommend anyone to go see it for Agony alone 🙂

  5. Neither of my parents were familiar with the play, but enjoyed the movie; as did my younger sister and I, who were familiar with the play.

    I also am kind of in love now with both Emily Blunt and Anna Kendrick.

  6. I went into the movie having had no idea it was a play. LOVED the first act, but thought bits of the second act went on too long. Now, I know why. They weren’t too long, they were missing important stuff. My sister and I will be checking out the Bernadette Peters version – thanks for the heads-up. I always appreciate your reviews!

  7. “I’m very curious — how did the movie go over for someone who doesn’t know the stage version like the back of their hand? Because yeah, I know this show, and I missed what was missing.”

    I haven’t yet seen it, but the crew over at Midnight Screenings watched this one and they did a review on it which is exactly what you’re asking for here.

    Short version: they liked it, but they thought it was confusing.

  8. Linda T Says:

    That makes so much sense that stuff was cut! I saw the stage version on tv ages ago and my memory of the show was seriously fuzzy. I thought the performances were excellent, the singing very good, but then I got completely lost with what was going on after the “happy ending” that was in the middle of the movie.

    Also, I LOVED Chris Pine in this. I swear he was channeling Shatner at several points. Agony had me dying laughing. I also really loved Daniel Huttlestone as the Baker. I knew him from The Wrong Mans (which, if you haven’t seen it, is worth seeking out) and I couldn’t picture him singing. He nailed it, though!

  9. Thomas Stacey Says:

    My cousins went on Christmas Day and only one of the four liked it, but they didn’t elaborate on why they didn’t like it. Completely didn’t know it was a play myself. I will check out the original later.

  10. Becca Says:

    My mother saw it last night. She had never seen anything about it, and even wasn’t interested when I was going in and on about wanting to see it.

    She said the ending was weak, bit that she loved the rest. I stopped her from saying anymore because I am still hoping to see it.

  11. Tim Schmidt Says:

    I’ve never seen the play and was only aware that it was a musical & a mash up of several fairy tales.
    I thoroughly enjoyed it but 2 things struck me.
    1. When everyone was doing their happy ever afters I thought the movie was over. I was very surprised when it kept going.
    2. When the giantess came, there was some discussion that maybe she wasn’t evil but then they dropped that with no more mention of it.

    BTW: Always love your reviews,


  12. Jennwynn Says:

    My husband has not seen the original and was very confused, and thought the second act (only 1/3 of the movie) made no sense and dragged. 🙂

    I think your FB short review is spot on. I loved the beginning. Jack and Red did great. Depp wasn’t my favorite, but previous wolves I’ve seen would be hard to beat. The song is almost more important than the actor for that character, and JD’s “stamp” seemed heavy handed. “Agony” was so great (and I was looking forward to the reprise and then really missed it). The pacing was so strange in the second act. Kevin said, “Wait a minute, when did we establish that Captain Kirk is a jerk?!?” I think the Baker’s Wife came off a little more negative. And Kevin kept waiting for her to have miraculously survived.

    Do we have any hope for an “extended version”? Have you heard?

    Still slowly rationing Low Midnight to make it last as long as I can… 🙂



  13. Amy Says:

    Don’t forget Chip Zein and Joanna Gleeson as the Baker and His Wife – amazing performances.

    I did like that they got decent child actors to play Jack and Red Riding Hood. In the Broadway version, I had such problems with thinking of them as kids that I didn’t even try. Now, seeing kids in those roles, the lyrics for those roles fit better.

    I missed the Narrator. And the Baker’s Father.
    And the amazing Agony reprise.

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