You know how sometimes Johnny Depp will appear on Letterman or wherever in a wide-brimmed hat and stringy hobo hair and be a complete bore? He looks exactly the same way in Into the Woods, and acts the same way, too, all eyeballs and aimlessness and weirdness for weirdness's sake. He's supposed to be the Wolf that eats Little Red Riding Hood. He looks nothing like a wolf. In the best-known stage version of Into the Woods, the wolf was outfitted with a really good mask that moved when he sang. But in this movie, it appears the costume and makeup people just let Johnny Depp wear whatever he was wearing when he walked onto the set, and it looks like a cheap Halloween costume for "T-Mobile regional manager with terrible facial hair." He's only in it for like five minutes, but still. Why we can't come together as a nation to repeal the law that Johnny Depp gets to have a part in every Stephen Sondheim movie adaptation is beyond me, but that's Obamacare for you.
Meryl Streep, on the other hand, is the greatest actor we have. She's the reason we have phrases like "the greatest actor we have." As everyone knows, she plays a witch in Into the Woods, which almost counts as typecasting. She walks in and immediately drops some serious sorcery, doing everything better than her generally-agreed-upon-by-musical-theater-nerds-to-have-done-it-better-than-anyone-possibly-could predecessor in the role, Bernadette Peters. How pale and unresourceful Bernadette Peters's Witch seems now, how many jokes in the text Bernadette Peters missed. Bernadette Peters sings higher and better, but that doesn't really matter—Meryl Streep just settles for a lower note here or there and you go, "Wow, good choice, Meryl."
The film's pacing is weird. Part of what's great about musicals, and especially this musical, is the pressure of complicated vocal and orchestral parts performed live. This rewarding tension is completely absent from the movie—for reasons both obvious and not. I mean, yes, a film is necessarily a recording and not a live performance, but director Rob Marshall has also added water to the soup. He cut a bunch of songs, which allowed him to slow down the remaining ones. The part where the witch raps about the vegetables in her garden, for instance, which is almost impossible to sing, which is why it's such a pleasure to listen to, because the whole time you're on the edge of your seat going, Is she going to spit out all the densely rhyming words correctly and in time with the orchestra?—that's gone. Now, that rap is interrupted with flashbacks and new orchestral filler. But, since Meryl Streep is doing the delivery, you hardly care. Of particular note: the way she delivers the words "chair," "rampion," "mollify," and "especially the beans."
Emily Blunt is great, too, as the Baker's Wife, and Christine Baranski is great as Cinderella's mom, and Chris Pine is especially great as Cinderella's Prince. The song "Agony," in which Cinderella's Prince and Rapunzel's Prince try to outdo each other in self-pity over not being able to bang whomever they want, is hilariously staged on top of a waterfall, with the princes splashing around in the water and unbuttoning their shirts to show each other their chests. Pine also delivers the best rhyme of the show—"Life is often so unpleasant, you must know that as a peasant"—while seducing someone who is not his wife, someone who is married to someone else, and gets a huge laugh. Across the storyline, there's promiscuity, mutilation, stupidity, deceit, people being eaten, people being crushed to death, and people falling off cliffs. By the end of it, half the characters are dead, and the remaining ones are like, "Let's just be a family and have sex with each other." It's touching, really. Merry Christmas.