Because of (a) Streep, (b) the cuts made to the theatrical version’s second act, and (c) Streep, this version of Sondheim’s musical comes down as hard as a giant’s foot on the parental tragedy side of the story, making it more about mothers who have to helplessly watch their children move on than about characters who have to face the fact that having is not as sweet as winning, or about a world in which Act Two consequences are the brutal disasters awaiting every bright Act One success. And yes, those elements remain in the movie, but because of (d) Streep, they all take second place to whatever the Witch is going through, and that includes a significant second-half death. So it works, but it might not work as well for you if you’re familiar with the original. (It is a fairy tale all its own to think that Rapunzel’s fate was ever going to get signed off on by Disney suits.)
For me, the delight of seeing Anne Kendrick kill “On The Steps Of The Palace” was matched only by watching Lilla Crawford’s Red Riding Hood do a powerhouse “I Know Things Now.” But the high point was Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen doing “Agony.” Mostly because (e) Chris Pine. His Prince Charming is so good, it’s like he just walked off the set of a musical version of The Princess Bride. It’s heartfelt and a parody at the same time. It blew me away.
And yes, Emily Blunt is the anchor of the show, and makes everyone around her better just by doing her best (hell, she made Tom Cruse likeable in Edge of Tomorrow, which you really need to see if you haven’t); and, to my mind, if anybody deserved an acting nomination from this film, it was her, because she’s that good; but then, (f) Streep.
Inside baseball: like the film version of Les Miz, this is a textbook example of how a plot convention that works just fine on the stage (the same people bumping into each other over and over again) becomes unbelievable when it’s seen on film. Seriously: in a forest the size of Connecticut, two people meeting up by chance is only slightly more believable than Christian Bale telling a joke.
I suffered the same kind of theatre/film disconnect with the Witch/Rapunzel relationship. While my theatre brain never once asked the question: "Hey Baker—you've got a sister and the Witch stole her—why don't you try to get her back instead of completely forgetting about her?" my movie brain asked it immediately and couldn’t stop remembering it.
And if you stick around for the credits, you learn that Johnny Depp had his own sound technician and his own vocal coach.
And if you see it in Times Square, you will walk in thinking that Depp’s Wolf looks like this, which is the Mount Everest of false advertising: