No matter how it performs in theaters, Stephen Sondheim's and James Lapine's dark, glorious, and supremely messy fairytale mash-up musical/therapy session is now forever a pop-culture curio that unwary kids will stumble upon to their bafflement and betterment. The princess-party punchbowl has forever been spiked.
Here's wicked stepsisters who hack off toes to cram their feet into Cinderella's slippers. And here's a Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) whose flock of bird companions occasionally peck out her enemies' eyes. Better still: Sumptuously gowned, Cinderella flees prince and ball three nights running for reasons she doesn't understand herself until much later, after she has won everything any princess-minded tween has ever ached for -- come to find out, the wishing beats the hell out of the having.
The wishing for a big-screen Into the Woods might best the reality, too, despite Kendrick's glittering turn and the wonders of Sondheim's brittle-witty score, which is mostly intact. Onstage, Into the Woods is an exhausting triumph -- it's the show whose first half your relatives adore, and whose second, when Grimm and Freud met Pirandello, leaves them restless and discomfited. Onscreen, exhaustion sets in much earlier. Into the Woods is all about archetypes running hither and thither, questing and belting, their stories glancing against each other in that fairytale space of the title. In a live performance, we can observe multiple stories at once, the actors occupying different copses -- we're invited to savor the correspondences. In the movie, director Rob Marshall simply cuts from one tale to the next, isolating his actors. There's little sense that the fairytale space is a shared one -- it's just a bunch of noisy incident transpiring in unrelated treestands.