Disney took a bold move to end the year, as ‘Into the Woods’ opened up on Christmas Day to an enthusiastic audience of musical fans and children eager to see the PG tale for the first time. ‘Into the Woods,’ released as a musical in 1986, was a Broadway hit courtesy of Stephen Sondheim’s legendary songwriting skills, the same musical numbers that are featured in the film. It was transposed beautifully unto the screen, despite the songs being shortened to fit the scenes better.
It was directed by Rob Marshall, the director of the musical adaptations ‘Chicago’ (2002) and ‘Nine’ (2009). With a star-studded cast, musical fans can find it interesting to watch as well as people of all ages because of its all-inclusive rating.
Due to this acceptance, it was very successful in the box office to boot. According to Box Office Mojo, the film earned more on its first weekend in theaters than the movie versions of the Abba musical ‘Mamma Mia!’ or ‘Les Miserables.’ With this in mind, it’s plain to see that this wouldn’t have happened without the movie being very high in quality.
The story follows the Baker and his wife who desperately want a child. A witch appears and tells them that she has cursed their home. However, she makes a deal that if they gather up several items by midnight in three days, they’ll finally have a family. Of course, the witch has her own motives. Along the way, the couple runs into several other fairy tales such as Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel. From the first moment of narration, the audience feels immersed in a musical world with a prologue song with layered parts where all the characters “wish” for something more.
The cast includes some fan favorites such as Anna Kendrick playing Cinderella. Although Kendrick normally sings pretty low, as we saw in ‘Pitch Perfect’ (2012), she can switch up into her head voice with the best of them. The transition went beautifully, and she carries the songs very well. Other cast members include Chris Pine as Cinderella’s Prince, James Corden as the Baker, Emily Blunt as the Baker’s wife, Johnny Depp as the Big Bad Wolf and Tracy Ullman as Jack’s mother. Despite the skepticism, they all managed to pull off the show, and in precise clarity. One of the strongest parts of the film is the clearness in the audio. It was almost impossible to miss a beat from an audience perspective. With songs where the lyrics are extremely detailed and quick preciseness is key.
The movie also featured some Broadway regulars such as Tony Award winner Bill Magnussen as Rapunzel’s Prince, Lilla Crawford as Little Red Riding Hood, who is best known for playing ‘Annie’ in the revival of the musical (2012) and Jack Huttlestone known for playing Gavroche in the film version of ‘Les Miserables’ (2012).
One of the biggest surprises was Meryl Streep playing the witch. As many know, she has been in so many different movies with several dynamic roles, and truly this film proves that there’s nothing she can’t do. Despite her ratty blue hair and snaggletooth, behind that exterior lies quite an actress who made me believe that she was truly wicked. Hitting her last notes in the ‘Last Midnight’ is probably the highlight of the movie. Along with that, she also manages to make almost all of her lines funny, truly making her evil character exciting and likable. If anything sticks out to me about this film, it has got to be Streep alone.
Overall, I would recommend this movie to all fans of the musical that can look at it with a fresh perspective. If you don’t compare it, it remains a wonderful entity on its own. Also those who enjoy musical movies in general would enjoy it, as the score is beautiful and very well put together.
As a bonus, children can come see it too, and enjoy classic fairy tales with good life lessons such as “You are not alone” and never let appearances fool you because only “you decide what’s right, you decide what’s good”. The songs will stay in your head long after the credits are rolling. As for me, this one has got to be on my top ten favorites for movie musicals, and I would see it again ten times over. I would give it four out of five stars, only because of the shortened songs, because I really couldn’t get enough.