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Into The Woods—Movie Review

Into the Woods-Meryl StreepCan 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.

Into The Woods-Lucy Punch-Christine Baranski-Tammy Blanchard

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.

James Corden-Emily Blunt-Into The Woods

 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.

 

13 comments

  1. Michael says:

    I quite liked it too Leonard. Glad to see you did.

  2. Brad says:

    Seriously Leonard, this is the best film of the year??? I’ve lost a lot of respect for you.

  3. Christopher A Brown says:

    Four stars out of four stars in my opinion.

  4. Jack says:

    The real problem with this film is that Sondheim musicals require real singers – not actors who can sing a bit. The same was true of Sweeney Todd which was ruined by Depp’s awful faux Bowie singing.

  5. Roger Green says:

    If I’m understanding your punctuation, it seems you’re calling Daniel Huttlestone a newcomer. He was in the film Les Miserables. I never saw the musical(!) but did love the film.

  6. GARY says:

    West Side Story and Sound Of Music are better films than stage shows that stay true to the originals. I think The King And I also works better on film than on stage. Hair and Cabaret are excellent films but different from their stage origins.

  7. Jeffrey says:

    This is one of the best films of the year? That is a befuddling statement.

  8. Mark says:

    If you aren’t familiar with the brilliant stage play, you probably will either totally miss the point of or just not like this film. I have loved the story and especially the music for many years. There were many moments where I was thinking how much more is fleshed out on film than could be on stage. Those songs have been happily bouncing around in my head for days.

  9. Phyllis says:

    For me there was a weak link- Johnny Depp as the wolf. He looked like a bedraggled old cat in a hustler’s zoot-suit- nothing like a wolf, and his acting was amateurish at best. All you have to do is watch a tape of the original Broadway cast to see what a fascinating character the wolf can be.

  10. Brian says:

    The film was wonderful, but I still prefer the original Broadway cast and book.

  11. gordon says:

    I saw the original production twice, and I like the film more too. All the giant stuff just works better with a real giant. The cast is just great, and the clarity in how they sing makes the clever lyrics really stand. Pine is a great surprise!

  12. Rio Pascu says:

    "I mean… Meryl Streep last song "Last Night" seem to be overdone. Sorry, missed the word "last"

  13. Rio Pascu says:

    I agree with this reviewer. I have seen the stage production many years ago in NYC and did not really understand the show. Truly, James and Emily were a surprise. They both sang well. Meryl Streep (I like her so much as an actress and she sang beautifully, but her song was overdone..sorry). Anna sang well, but her facial expressions were all the same throughout. Anyhow, it was good film and it reminded of the "Wizard of Oz", a movie that you can watch over and over again.

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