I finally got to see Into the Woods this weekend. Overall I thought it was a fabulous movie. The majority of musical film adaptations I have seen have been horribly disappointing. But this one more or less delivered. It remained very faithful to the source material, and the changes that were made, by and large, were helpful to moving the film along. Stage and screen are different, and the producers did an admirable job of converting from one to the other.
There is only one aspect of the film that I think was not successful, and that was the transition from Act One to Act Two. The split between the two acts is difficult enough on stage. It is practically two different shows, one before the intermission, and one after. The movie did not have an intermission, and went directly into Act Two. The problem here is that there was essentially no passage of time from “Happily Ever After”, to “After Happily Ever After”. In fact the song Ever After was cut from the film, appearing only in instrumental form. In the musical this ends the first act.
On stage it is clear that there has been a passage of time of several months before the second act. The audience feels this not just because of the song and dialog that is not present in the film, but the intermission itself does this. When you come back to your seats it makes sense that Cinderella has had time to actually live as a princess and become disenchanted with it. There is time for everyone’s emotions to set up to the point that the appearance of the giant is truly disruptive to the new lives they have. It makes all that comes after much more poignant emotionally.
In the movie we go straight from the last midnight, to a very brief scene of happiness, to the giant appearing and destroying the kingdom. This all occurs in the span of about ten minutes. The audience does not have time to process this and adjust to the new reality, only to have to readjust again when it all comes crashing down. I know this show by heart and even I felt it jarring.
The “Happily Ever After” needed to happen and be felt in order for the rest of the movie to have the payoff that it does on stage. The film simply went too fast and ended up missing the emotional impact.
But this really was the only truly significant flaw that I saw with this movie. Otherwise I thought it was a spot on adaptation of the show. My fear when the project was announced that it would either be sanitized, or taken to an absurdly dark level. Neither happened, and what we ended up was that rarest of rarities, a good film adaptation of a stage musical.