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Into The Woods—Movie Review

Into The Woods—Movie Review

Can the movie adaptation of a Broadway show actually improve
on the original? I can’t think of another example, offhand, until Into the Woods. This is a completely
subjective statement, as there are many Stephen Sondheim aficionados who love
the 1987 show as is. I am one of those naysayers who admire the witty
inventiveness of Act One, and its reinterpretation of classic fairy tales, and
hate the downbeat deconstruction of those characters in Act Two. Somehow,
librettist James Lapine has managed to retain the essence of this concept while
making it more palatable and emotionally involving. Perhaps it’s the intimacy
of film that helps put this across, but I actually like this version better
than the play. (Purists may disagree.)

For anyone who is unfamiliar with the material, Into the Woods cleverly interweaves the
stories of Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Jack and the
Beanstalk and a newly-spun tale of the Baker and his Wife into a narrative that
cautions us all to be careful what we wish for—especially if we venture into
the dark unknown of the woods. Often-painful lessons await those who go there, young
and old alike.

Director Rob Marshall’s brilliantly executed presentation
draws us into these stories with the help of a terrific cast: Meryl Streep as
the Witch, James Corden and Emily Blunt as the Baker and his Wife, Anna
Kendrick as Cinderella, Christine Baranski as her wicked stepmother (and Lucy
Punch and Tammy Blanchard as her nasty stepsisters), newcomers Lilla Crawford
as Red Riding Hood, Mackenzie Mauzy as Rapunzel, and Daniel Huttlestone as
Jack, Tracey Ullman as Jack’s mother, Chris Pine as the Prince and Billy
Magnussen as his equally lovesick brother, and, in an extended cameo, Johnny
Depp as The Wolf. There are no weak links in this extraordinary ensemble.

Into the Woods is
an exquisite film fashioned by an array of A-list talents, including
cinematographer Dion Beebe, production designer Dennis Gassner, costume
designer Colleen Atwood, and two longtime Sondheim associates, orchestrator
Jonathan Tunick and conductor Paul Gemignani. It looks and sounds magnificent.

I enjoyed all the performances but have to single out James
Corden and Emily Blunt in particular: he’s a star on the rise (already well
established on stage and television in England and a Tony Award-winner on
Broadway who’s about to take over Craig Ferguson’s job as late-night host on
CBS) while she has never sung onscreen before. Their performances are
especially engaging and, ultimately, quite moving.

 Woe to families with
young children who are lured into the theater expecting this Disney release to
provide a family-friendly musical romp. Parents should know that this is a dark
interpretation of those famous Grimm fairy tales. But for mature moviegoers, of
all ages, Into the Woods is a treat,
one of the year’s best films.

 

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