The first time I saw Into The Woods was at the very first production put on by Music Theatre Montreal. It was late 2011 and a strike of the unionized support workers at McGill meant that all of the campus groups that had bookings at Moyse Hall-- the main theatre in the Arts building-- were out in the cold as far as spaces for their shows went. Since I was on the executive of such a group-- The McGill Savoy Society, which usually books Moyse for a two-week run of Gilbert and Sullivan in February-- this was obviously concerning. MTM was the first theatre group to have to face the problem, and despite every expectation that the show would be canceled, everyone involved in the production pulled together and managed to book a different venue and put on the show, a great success. I remember wishing that I was playing it, but since I was doing both Sweeney Todd and The Gondoliers that year, I wasn't too deprived on the musical theatre front. The second time I saw Into The Woods was a few days ago, a Disney blockbuster with actors so famous, even I had heard of some of them! Okay, two-- Anna Kendrick, who might as well have been filming an audition for the role of Cinderella with the music video for "Cups" (aka the Carter Family's "When I'm Gone"), and, of course, Johnny Depp. My dad said that he thought Johnny Depp was becoming a caricature of himself: possibly true, but I don't know what else can be expected of him from the role of pedophilic forest animal.
The best thing about this movie, I think, is that it exists. Although it might seems a little bit pessimistic to say, I think it's true that a lot of people who would never buy a ticket to a production of a Sondheim musical will see this movie. And that's not necessarily because of any antipathy in modern culture for live music; it could be just price. Pretty much the only way to mount a top-notch production of a show and sell the vast majority (IDK, possibly excepting IMAX or whatever premium movie theatre tickets some people might buy) of the tickets for $10 or less is to make it a movie.
There were some parts of the movie, too, that not only did the musical justice but actually improved on anything that could be done in a theatre: probably the highlight of the entire movie for me was the song "Agony," in which Cinderella's and Rapunzel's princes compare their hardships as the true loves and saviors of their respective difficult women. The song is over-the-top and ridiculous, and the ability to make it ridiculous in a cinematic way only improved on the humour. (They splash around in a waterfall overlooking the kingdom, striking poses and ignoring the water damage to their presumably expensive riding boots.)
The main problem with Into The Woods as a movie, then, was that it was just too damn long. Or rather, too damn long to not have an intermission. The structure of the acts in the show basically demands an intermission: at the end of the first act the characters all get their wishes and everyone lives happily ever after. Applaud, go buy a $6 Häagen-Dazs bar from the concession stand, and rally for the next act, which has a lot more weirdness and body count (which was diminished by one for the movie: Rapunzel lives.) With both acts run together, I was wishing it was over about 45 minutes before it actually was.
With both Into the Woods and Mr. Turner-- a movie about British artist J. M. W. Turner-- in theatres now, I eagerly await Hollywood's take on Sunday in the Park with George.