Fairy tale characters come to life in unexpected ways courtesy of a big-name cast in Disney’s big screen adaptation of the popular Stephen Sondheim musical, Into the Woods. Director Rob Marshall knows his way around movie musicals having helmed both Chicago and Nine, but with Into the Woods he delivers a far more lavish spectacle than either of those two productions.
With Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick and Chris Pine leading the way, Into the Woods is an enjoyable romp through the world of classic storybook characters. And when the story turns darker than even the Grimm Brothers concocted, it’s Streep and company who make sure the characters are still likable enough to continue to connect with the audience, even if their actions are despicable, in some cases, and seemingly out of character in others.
The story follows a baker (Corden) and his wife (Blunt) who want a child but have been unable to conceive. A witch (Streep) appears who has a connection to the baker’s father, and she promises to help them become parents if they break the curse she originally cast after discovering the baker’s dad stole her magic beans. The witch was punished for losing the beans (she was transformed into a hideous crone), but if the childless couple will fetch four items from the woods, all of the spells will be reversed.
So the baker sets out to collect the items – a cow as white as milk, hair as yellow as corn, a cape as red as blood, and a slipper as pure as gold – before the blue moon rises. His journey into the woods forces him to cross paths with a psycho wolf (Johnny Depp), a young girl named Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) who’s very possessive of her cape, and Red’s dear old granny.
Because she can’t just patiently wait for her hubby to do all the work, the baker’s wife also heads out into the woods where she stumbles upon Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) who for some reason is fleeing from Prince Charming (Chris Pine). She also learns of Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) and her lovely, flowing locks, and snips her way to one of the witch’s required items. Meanwhile, the baker also comes across a boy who loves his cow, Milky White, but who’s willing to trade the poor beast away for some magic beans.
However, the happy ending that fairy tales promise is just out of reach for this motley mix of characters and when all of the items are collected, the result turns all of the characters’ lives upside down.
The Bottom Line:
Streep’s terrific and not at all campy as the wicked witch, Blunt gives real emotional weight to the role of the wife, and Corden turns out to be the perfect actor to play the Baker who’s actually the heart and soul of the film. Kendrick has a wonderful voice and makes the audience feel for this poor girl who’s mistreated by her family and who ultimately discovers Prince Charming isn’t the man she’s dreamed of all of her life. And speaking of Prince Charming, Chris Pine practically steals the film away from his co-stars. When he teams up with Billy Magnussen to sing “Agony,” it’s the best musical production number in the film.
Marshall stumbles a bit with the pacing as the film hits the midpoint, but he recovers nicely as Into the Woods twists and turns its way to the surprising (for those who haven’t seen the Broadway musical) finale. What with the popularity of fairy tale stories, Into the Woods deserves to find an audience willing to go on this fantastical ride filled with catchy tunes and memorable performances.
Into the Woods is rated PG for thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material.
Running Time: 124 minutes
Release Date: December 25, 2014
-By Rebecca Murray
Follow Us On: