Into the Woods is a screen adaptation of the musical, of the same name, by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine and, like the musical, the film tries to combine many of the characters from the collection of fairy tales gathered by the Brothers Grimm such as Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Jack (as in Jack the beanstalk). This fantasy, cross over mish mash works reasonably well but the focus on many different characters, and attempts to devote equal screen time to them, damages the film's pacing.
Revolutionary France's only cockney is back, and now he's being a cockney in some made up, generic fantasy land filled with all types of the fairy tale creatures and characters. I jest of course as I take nothing away from Daniel Huttlestone (who has done a lot of growing of late) who I feel is rather talented as his cheeky and cocky performance captured his character well in Les Misérables. In Into the Woods, Huttlestone's performance is once again entirely watchable.
As are much much of the cast, Anna Kendrick, who has been in a lot of musicals of late (Pitch Perfect 1 and 2 for example), is pretty good and James Corden and Emily Blunt are excellent together but it's Meryl Streep's Oscar nominated performance that steals the show. Streep is undoubtedly one of the finest actors of any generation, but it seems the she get a nomination for whatever reason the academy deem fit. She could read the phone book and still be nominated. However, it's unfair to chastise Streep or the Academy for this as Streep's performance as the evil Witch is rather fun to watch.
So the performances by the likes of Streep and Kendrick are inherently watchable, but the musical numbers are a tad forgettable. Rob Marshall, who directed the 2002 Oscar Winning Musical Chicago, doesn't make the musical sequences visually impressive (though, visually, there is one good musical piece later on in the film) and the songs themselves just aren't distinctly memorable. Rest assured parents it's not like you'll have the kids singing any of these songs nonstop like they did with Let It Go because the songs aren't as catchy as they should be.
The set designs are terrific and costumes excellent but as someone who is not partial to a musical and neither do I outright reject them Into The Woods didn't win me over because of the lack of memorable and catchy songs (though there are some good songs) which more often than not are rather irritating (yeah, we get it...you've got to the bloody festival. Please stop going on about it). Is it because the songs lack memorable lyrics or Marshall's staging of the songs isn't visually arresting? Personally, I'd go for the latter as Stephen Sondheim's stage musical seems hugely popular.