It was shocking when I first heard it, though it makes sense: there is no narrator in the movie. Instead, the Baker is heard to be narrating the story. Which threw me off at first, but made sense by the end of the film. The loss of the narrator also means the loss the meta-humor in the show, not to mention the narrator's entertaining commentary and asides. Tom Aldredge as The Narrator was one of my favourite parts of the 1991 production, and so I was a little sad that the role is missing from the film. For the most part, thought, it works. The only place is really becomes noticeable, of course, is the beginning of the second act. Because there is no narrator to throw to the giant we a) miss out on that dark moment and b) don't get the sense that the stories were acting independently and are now becoming tangled. So when the Baker's Wife, during her "moment in the woods" says, "This is ridiculous, what am I doing here, I'm in the wrong story!", I don't quite know how she can tell.
Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen's performance of Agony is one of the best I've every seen. It is over-the-top in every way, from the setting - a waterfall - to the most perfect moment in the whole song - Chris Pine tearing his shirt open. In fact, Chris Pine was surprisingly impressive, far surpassing my expectations and shooting to the top of my list of "Best Prince Charmings". I enjoyed both Princes thoroughly. There is no Agony reprise, so the issue of the men chasing other women is dropped (or at least, it is for Rapunzel's Prince - Cinderella's prince still has his "moment in the woods" with the Baker's Wife.)
Cinderella sometimes seems like a bland character in the musical, but Anna Kendrick's portrayal is consistently entertaining, and her rendition of "On the Steps of the Palace" is impressive. I don't have anything more to say.
I was always kind of lukewarm about Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. I like the character, they just never stood out for me. Johnny Depp is a passable wolf, and his singing style works for "Hello Little Girl" (though the howl at the end is laughably ridiculous). Lil Red is mostly charming, and only slightly annoying, and I therefore have little to say about her.
We don't really get to know Rapunzel as a character in the musical. By the second act, she is a hysterical mess who runs screaming into the path of the giant. In the film, her storyline undergoes a few changes. She is banished to a swamp, not the desert, and she does not bear twins. We still get the moment where Rapunzel chooses to go off with her Prince, but that's the last we see of her. She is not crushed underfoot by a woman giant. And it's not a change that bothers me too much. One the one hand, it takes away from the darkness of the second act, and I'll talk about that more later.
The character of the Mysterious Man is mysteriously absent from the film. Though the Baker's Father does appear, it is only for two short scenes: one a flashback to raiding the Witch's garden; the other a short interaction with his son, warning him not to make the mistakes he did. (Which comes completely out of the blue - the father is not present the entire film, appears for this one scene and then disappears again. Huh?) In the film, the character is defined by his absence, and his absence also defines the Baker. So in the end of the film, he is not worried so much about raising his child without his wife, but without having ever had a father, reflected in the line change from “How will I go about being a father with no one to mother my child” to “How will I go about being a father when I had no father to show me.”
In the stage play, the Mysterious Man has a chance to redeem himself. He helps his son to get the four items for the witch, and has a chance to build their relationship. (Cinderella's father dead in the movie.)
I was doing my best while watching the film not to compare Emily Blunt to Joanna Gleason. Gleason is my sentimental favourite and gold standard for the Baker's Wife, and it just wouldn't be fair. And certainly I enjoyed Blunt's performance, but something about it felt strange. It wasn't until I was home, listening the my Into the Woods OBC soundtrack that I realize. One of the songs ommited is Maybe They're Magic, and in it the Baker's Wife talks about bending the rules and telling some tiny lies to get your wish.
If the thing you do / Is pure in intent / If it's meant / And it's just a little bent / Does it matter?
And it occured to me that Blunt's Baker's Wife is too nice. She's sweeter, and less insistent, and nicer. She seems less flawed. And I also find it a little harder to believe that the Baker relied on her for everything. (And Emily's voice is sweeter, Joanna's more powerful.) Blunt's performance is a strong one, and a valid interpretation of the character, just not my preferred one.
The giant doesn't directly kill anyone. As in the musical, the Prince's Steward is responsible for the death of Jack's mother (though he pushes her rather than striking her, so the moment is less shocking), The Baker's Wife falls off a cliff (admittedly being pursued by the giant, though Emily Blunt's death is less dramatic even than Joanna Gleason rolling off the back of a raised platform on stage). However, because the characters do not sacrifice the narrator (or a substitute) to the giant, and Rapunzel does not run into the giant's path, the giant kills a grand total of Not A Single Person. Not directly, at least. (Except maybe Red Riding Hood's mother and grandmother. The threat doesn't seem as real, and the characters don't seem as flawed. They're nicer. (Sigh.) Futher, we never see the giant in the musical. In the film, though I think the portrayal was well done, we do see her face. And so we sympathize with her. One the one hand, it brings home Red Riding Hood's point that giants are people too - on the other hand, I feel really bad for the giant in the movie. She doesn't drop anyone or step on anyone (again, except maybe's Red's family) and her husband's just been killed - she's upset.
If you're a Sondheim fan, you noticed it; if you aren't, you probably won't care. But when they played the Night Waltz at the ball on the first night of the festival, I gasped.