Synopsis: Into the Woods is a modern twist on several beloved fairy tales, intertwining the plots of a few choice stories and exploring the consequences of the characters’ wishes and quests. This humorous and heartfelt musical follows the classic tales of Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Jack and the Beanstalk (Daniel Huttlestone), and Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy), all tied together by an original story involving a Baker and his Wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt), their wish to begin a family and their interaction with the Witch (Meryl Streep), who has put a curse on them.
Release Date: December 25, 2014 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Musical, Fantasy
Composer Stephen Sondheim is the standard by which all musical theater lyricists and composers are measured. Over the course of his long and storied career, the musician has seen many of his shows adapted into successful movies, including hits like West Side Story, Gypsy, and, most recently, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. He even won an Oscar with one of his original songs (“Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)”) from Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy in 1991. The newest Sondheim classic to hit the big screen is his 1986 collaboration with James Lapine, the fairy tale mashup Into the Woods.
The central characters of Into the Woods are a Baker (Begin Again‘s James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt from Edge of Tomorrow and Looper), a couple who can never have children because of a curse that was placed upon them years ago by an old Witch (Meryl Streep from The Devil Wears Prada). The Witch offers to lift the curse if the Baker and his Wife can locate four ingredients that she needs for a spell: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, some hair as yellow as corn, and a shoe as pure as gold.
The Baker and his Wife set out to find the items, meeting Jack (Daniel Huttlestone from Les Miserables) with the cow, Little Red Riding Hood (Broadway star Lilla Crawford) with the cape, Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy from “The Bold and the Beautiful”) with the hair, and Cinderella (Pitch Perfect‘s Anna Kendrick) with the shoe. However, in bargaining to get the stuff, they trade some magic beans to Jack who grows a beanstalk that allows giants to come down to Earth, and all of the characters must join together to combat the destructive foes.
Director Rob Marshall has a pretty solid pedigree when it comes to big Hollywood musicals; he is the man behind the Academy Award-winning Chicago as well as the 1999 TV Movie version of Annie. The smartest thing that Marshall does with Into the Woods is to not reinvent the wheel; the screenplay was written by James Lapine himself (who wrote the book to the original), and the show uses just about all of Sondheim’s classic songs. Marshall takes a very theatrical approach to the story, with grandiose sets, flamboyant costuming, and exaggerated performances from the cast. Into the Woods boils down to being a well-executed production of a finely-tuned screenplay. Oh, and it’s a lot of fun to watch.
The fact that Into the Woods features all of the popular fairy tale heroes and heroines does not mean that it is all kids’ stuff. Of course, the interspersing and overlapping adventures of the different familiar characters is family-friendly, but the film itself is pretty dark and scary. Disney actually requested changes to be made to the original story in order to lighten it up a bit; Rapunzel dies in the stage show but is spared in the movie, and there is a toning-down of the sexual innuendo between Little Red and the Big Bad Wolf (played by “the” Johnny Depp in yet another sneaky cameo).
Even with the changes, there is a point in the film where the musical fun backs off and the mood turns dreary and depressing. Like any good fairy tale, Into the Woods comes back with a predictably happy ending, but the film as a whole is not all song and dance; there’s some heavy drama in there as well.
As far as movie musicals go, Into the Woods is respectable. Even with the Disney sterilization of the plot, the film still manages to remain pretty faithful to the show, and that’s a good thing. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
Of course, at the center of Into the Woods is the music, and it’s all great. Most of the narrative of the first two acts is told through the music and, in typical Broadway fashion, the soundtrack does a great job of moving the story along. The performances of the cast are suitably over-the-top and musically theatrical, and it works perfectly in the context of the film. At one point, the two princes in the film (played wonderfully by Chris Pine from Star Trek and Billy Magnussen from “As the World Turns”) sing a duet called “Agony” about their respective princesses (Cinderella and Rapunzel), and the two knock it out of the park, constantly trying to outdo each other in what becomes one of the funniest moments in the film.
The entire ensemble also cooperates well together, as evidenced by a later number called “Your Fault” in which all of the principal cast members take turns blaming each other for their problems, the scene bordering on organized chaos as they step on each other’s lines and toes. At the root of it all is Sondheim’s music, which is timeless enough to make a movie full of music that was written almost thirty years ago still sound modern. Sondheim’s score is as fresh as the day it was first performed.
further reading Mary Poppins Returns Has Imaginative Spirit Yet Lacks Infectious Music
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Rob Marshall
- Screenwriter(s): James Lapine
- Cast: Anna Kendrick (Cinderella), Daniel Huttlestone (Jack), James Corden (Baker), Emily Blunt (Baker’s Wife), Christine Baranski (Stepmother), Tammy Blanchard (Florinda), Lucy Punch (Lucinda), Tracey Ullman (Jack’s Mother), Meryl Streep (Witch), Chris Pine (Cinderella’s Prince), Johhny Depp (Wolf)
- Cinematographer: Dion Beebe
- Country Of Origin: USA