We’ve heard all of the classic tales before: Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and even Jack and the Bean Stalk. These tales have been passed down for generations and they’re still enjoyed by both children and adults alike. In director Rob Marshall’s latest film, Into the Woods, these tales are presented in clever new ways that simultaneously pay homage and poke fun at some of their more absurd aspects. Based on Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical of the same name, it’s actually quite funny and the fantastic cast makes most of the situations a lot of fun to watch. Unfortunately, the film’s final 30 minutes threaten to ruin the entire project. Despite barely reaching a two hour runtime, the film feels far too long, mostly because a brand new final conflict is thrown into the mix after the main storyline has already concluded. But this major problem doesn’t totally ruin the film, mostly because everything that came before it was such glorious fun.

In a fairy tale world, a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) live alone together, unable to bear children. One day, they are visited by a witch (Meryl Streep), who informs them that she has placed a curse on the baker’s family, after she was betrayed by the baker’s father. The witch says that she would be willing to reverse the curse, but the baker and his wife must retrieve four items: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold. To retrieve these items, the couple venture into the mysterious woods where they encounter Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), a boy named Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) and a charming prince (Chris Pine).

Marshall is perhaps best known for his adaptations of popular musicals and while this is a fine production, it’s also not his best work. The script by James Lapine leaves plenty of room for humorous situations and dialogue, particularly from Corden, Blunt, Streep and Pine. Every actor seems to be having a great time playing with their respective characters and the clichés that come with it. Perhaps the strangest piece of the ensemble is Johnny Depp as The Big Bad Wolf, who basically acts as a child predator in his quest to eat Little Red Riding Hood. But the dialogue is sharp and snappy from all and cleverly skewers fairy tale tropes.

A big part of any musical is the actual music on display, but the tunes that comprise Into the Woods feel like a bit of a letdown. Sure, there are some solid songs, with the opening number being a particular show-stopper. It’s a 14 minute prologue that features singing from every major character in the film and the final seconds have interjections from every one of them, which are gloriously edited together. But the majority of the songs in the film lack distinction from each other and often feel like the characters are simply singing their lines, rather than singing a well composed melody. Luckily, there are a few songs with lyrics so clever and fun that they’re able to make up for the bland melodies: “Agony” humorously has two princes singing about their difficult lives and “Your Fault” is a fast-paced song that has several characters passing the blame from one person to another.

By the time the final 30 minutes roll around, the film begins to feel like it’s overstayed its welcome. The finale is also disappointing, mostly because the brand new threat feels very uninteresting and the death of several major characters are completely glossed over, resulting in little to no emotional impact. But even when the story begins to fall apart, it’s the performances and humor that make everything worthwhile. With solid production design by Dennis Gassner that prevents the wooded scenes from ever looking dull or repetitive, Into the Woods is a solid musical, one that should work for anyone who doesn’t feel inclined to spend the extra money to see it on stage.

Into the Woods receives 2.5/4

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