I've been in love with Into the Woods for years. I've seen it performed several times, watched the DVD of the original Broadway production many times, and lost count of how often I've listened to the original cast album.
As a writer, I'm awed by Sondheim's trademark wit, his long elegant vocal lines, his surprising rhymes, his dark humor, his complex music. I was worried that the Disney musical would be too cute, but I was wrong; it's fairly true to the spirit of his work. Disney's found ways through cinematography and specials effects to capture the heart and soul of a bittersweet American masterpiece.
The movie is full of surprises. Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep have rich expressive voices and break your heart. Johnny Depp is appropriately creepy as the Wolf and Chris Pine isn't just a wonderful singer, he's even funnier and sexier than he was in Star Trek. He almost steals the show--uh, movie---in the beautifully staged "Agony."
There's more: "On the Steps of the Palace" is absolutely brilliant and it's not the only show-stopper in the movie which looks and sounds beautiful all the way through.
Well, almost. The casting of Jack is a complete dud. Perhaps to appeal to kids, Disney picked the actor who played Gavroche in Les Misérables. He doesn't have the acting or singing chops to put over "Giants in the Sky"--his diction and accent turn a soaring hymn into mush. But just think of it as "a peculiar passing moment"--in the words of the Baker's wife--and let it go.
There are other gaps. The "Mysterious Man" isn't here in person. Lyrics are trimmed throughout and the two Princes only sing together once. More seriously, "No More" is cut, and it's a pivotal song that makes the Baker turn and face his responsibilities. Perhaps most sadly, most of the ensembles have been axed, and so you lose Sondheim's glorious harmonies and the true sense of solidarity built through "No One is Alone." You also lose that amazing group finale on screen which is all about the never-ending journey into darkness towards self-discovery: "Into the woods, each time you go/There's more to learn of what you know." So the movie ends with pathos rather than bravado.
But hey, none of that should stop you from seeing Into the Woods, because it's deeply moving and sometimes even spectacular. And then you can go home and watch the truly terrific Bernadette Peters and Joanna Gleason in the Broadway production on BluRay to fill in all the gaps. I mean, moments.