Last year, Telltale Games released a video game called “The Wolf Among Us.” The interactive story re-imagined fairy tales of lore – from Snow White to Georgie Porgie – as a community of troubled New Yorkers caught up in a multiple homicide investigation. You play as Bigby Wolf, a detective with a past as coarse as his beard hair, now a man doing his best to pay penance for the huffing and puffing of his past.
Rob Marshall‘s Into the Woods has its own Big, Bad Wolf – Johnny Depp with a crumpled mustache and a rapey solo track. He bays at the moon while singing about how badly he wants to gobble up Red Riding Hood. It’s weird, off-putting and noxious – essential Depp 101. Where Telltale was able to take familiar characters and weave a story around them that benefits from our understanding of their respective fables, Into the Woods relies entirely on mimicking the collective conscious of lore, spoon-feeding back a narrative that’s more anecdotal smorgasbord than anything refined and singular. It’s one big inside joke that’s sure to tickle musical fans pink while leaving those on the other side of the fence howling for respite.
The story starts out in precious sing-song with a baker and his wife wailing their woes of a womb left barren, a pernicious Little Red (Lilla Crawford) embarking to grandma’s with a basket brimming with baked goods, Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) unwittingly off to trade his milky white cow for some magic beans and a spindly witch played by Meryl Streep hemming and hawing about an aged curse and popping in and out of frames in daffy gusts of smoke. Their paths, for one reason or another, have all been pointed into the woods. And so we embark with ballad after ballad, lungs brimming with gusto.
It’s within said woods that The Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt) must gather a cow as white as milk, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as gold as…gold? in order to break the curse that Steep’s witch placed on their house many years ago. Many songs follow.
For those turned off by musical numbers, Into the Woods is an auditory onslaught that fails to break from the repertoire of singing, singing and more singing long enough to develop a story beyond the patchwork of colliding fairy tales. Chris Pine steals the show with in-film brother Billy Magnussen in a number called “Agony” but clever moments of tongue-in-cheek nods to the adults in the audience like this are woefully sparse.
The cast is admittedly stellar – Anna Kendrick, Corden, Blunt, Pine and, to a lesser degree, Streep all own their numbers, even if I personally found some of those numbers grating. But such is the nature of the musical. You’re either in it or you aren’t. It’s just not my cup of tea. What I completely fail to understand is any Oscar buzz surrounding the film as the mere idea of Streep with a nomination frustrates me beyond belief (in a year stuffed with excellent, unsung female performances.) She’s played the Academy Darling card too many times recently, earning a nod nearly every time she puts her face to celluoid. The Iron Lady doth protest too much, methinks.