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See It, Rent It, Skip It: Into the Woods

12/25/2014 at 12:10 | Posted by Jennifer Hall // Staff Writer
(Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures)

It begins with three simple wishes. Three wishes that change everything.

Walt Disney Pictures brings Into the Woods into the theaters for the holidays. Adapted from the Tony Award winning musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, the production follows in the stage-to-screen tradition of other Broadway hits like Grease, Funny Girl, and Mama Mia!

Rob Marshall (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha) directs an all-star cast that includes Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, and Johnny Depp.

Into the Woods threads tales from The Brothers Grimm together. We eagerly follow childhood favorites like “Cinderella”, “Jack and the Beanstalk”, “Little Red Riding Hood”, and “Rapunzel,” in pursuit of the thing they wish for most in the world.

Cinderella wishes to go to the King’s festival. Jack wishes that his cow, affectionately called Milky White, would give milk.

Central to the story is the Baker and his wife, who wish to have a child. However, the revengeful witch next door overhears their wish and reveals that she is the reason why they are currently childless.

Years ago, she placed a curse on the Baker’s family after she caught his father stealing from her garden. The witch goes on to tell them that she will lift the curse if they bring her four things: the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold, all before midnight in three days’ time.

Oh, and this all happens in the prologue!

Those familiar with the stage play will be pleased to know that the film upholds the integrity of the original production. Much to the credit of Lapine and Sondheim’s collaborative work on the film adaptation and Marshall’s direction. The sexual undertones that the Broadway production toyed with are largely subdued in the Disney film.

To say the performances are outstanding would be an understatement. Into the Woods is a master class in musical theater.

Like Bernadette Peters’ portrayal of the Witch and Joanna Gleason’s performance as the Baker’s Wife in the original Broadway production, Streep and Blunt are currently receiving rave reviews for their performances in the film.

However, they aren’t the only showstoppers. Corden (Gavin & Stacey) is brilliant and understated as the Baker. While young Daniel Huttlestone (Les Misérables) shines as an energetic Jack. Each player is perfectly cast and brings a delightful flare to this fantastical medley of fairy tales.

Distinct set design and costuming aid in the creation of the Grimm Brothers’ magical world. The timeless songs stay with you long after the final credits. I’m still singing “Agony” —thanks Chris Pine!

However, after Cinderella’s wedding, the pacing stumbles a bit in the beginning of the third Act. In the play, the progression or adequately the digression of the characters is well-defined. Despite having what they wish, they are still discontent. This is alluded to in the film, but no time is really taken to explore this, because the plot begins to noticeably race toward the finish line.

In the end, the characters contend with “Giants in the Sky,” a hungry wolf, age-defying curses, a philandering prince, and so much more! And it’s all worth it.

Disney’s Into the Woods benefits from strong writing, gorgeous music, talented performances, spectacular imagery, and a little imagination. It’s the perfect addition to your holiday family time I say SEE IT!

Into the Woods opens on Christmas Day!

Note: Into the Woods is rated PG and may not be suitable for young children.

 

 

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