Dr. Donna Copeland’s
Anna Kendrick James Corden Emily Blunt Meryl Streep Chris Pine Daniel Huttlestone Chrtine Baranski
Tracey Ullman Lucy Punch Mackenzie Mauzy Lilla Crawford Johnny Depp Billy Magnussen
INTO THE WOODS
Disney has tapped into more new ground in 2014 than I can recall concerning their live action features. Following the darker blockbuster hit Maleficient, Into the Woods is a darker version of childhood stories told in epic storybook fashion. It’s a fascinating look into what happens after the ‘happily ever after’. Adapted from Stephen Sondheim’s award winning musical, an array of Hollywood talent lend their talent to the extravagant musical production directed by Oscar winner Rob Marshall (Chicago). Similar to Les Miserables, Into the Woods is a bit long winded in the final act; yet watching certain main characters meet their demise kept me interested. Adults, more than Children, will find Into the Woods satisfying. The musical numbers, always short, never impede the story except for one number between Blunt and Corden.
The baker (Corden) and his wife (Blunt) want a baby to complete their family, but an evil spell has been cast and only the witch next door (Streep) can remove it. Her price is a red cape, a gold shoe, a white cow and a golden hair all before the moon turns blue after three nights. The baker and his wife go into the woods, desperate to find the items even if it means stealing, tricking or begging. They meet a hungry girl (Crawford) with a red cape who has a nasty encounter with a wolf (Depp). Other characters include a maid (Kendrick) desperate to get out of her chores and meet a prince (Pine) and a young boy named Jack (Huttlestone) who has brought terror from the sky.
The script is snarky and funny, even with children watching there are enough moments to make the grown-ups chuckle that will go over young one's heads. Although Disney forced the original script to be toned down because of the dark themes and deaths, some things, especially with the wolf, were made more family friendly. While Blunt, Pine and Corden star in their first musical (although Corden was singing in Begin Again), it’s Depp’s very limited screen time that is the least impressive. Streep steals the show vocally with the powerful ‘Stay with Me’ ballad, which is the centerpiece of the entire film. Streep’s witch will single handedly win the best costumes award with the lavish pieces by Colleen Atwood.
“It takes Two,” was my least favorite song in the film; it’s the one moment where nothing really progresses, so take a bathroom break. The film does tend to fall apart near the end after the excitement of the spectacle begins to wear, off much like the spell. I’m not sure why musicals always have to drag things out; perhaps it’s the stop and sing element. There is so much to look at in this film beyond just the performance pieces. Besides Streep, there isn’t anyone that really stands out as doing groundbreaking work. Even Kendrick (Pitch Perfect), a great vocal artist, doesn’t knock you out of your seat. It’s a mostly pleasant and fun experience with a “be careful what you wish for” message.
Final Thought – Streep’s first time as a witch is worth the price of admission.
Into the Woods is a well-staged musical directed by Rob Marshall based on the Broadway stage production by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. Featuring Anna Kendrick, Johnny Depp, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine, and Meryl Streep, it weaves several fairy tales together to make a new story with words of wisdom about setting reasonable goals, parenting, and love. We get a bit of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Jack and the Beanstalk. It’s light and fun with beautiful cinematography (Dion Beebe), and the acting/singing is top-notch.
The story centers around a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Blunt), whose lives become intertwined with a witch (Streep), Cinderella (Kendrick), Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), and Jack (Daniel Huttlestone). The witch has put a curse on the baker’s house because of something his father did, and for the curse to be lifted, they must bring to her a pure white cow, a red cape, yellow hair, and a golden shoe. The challenge is that they must go into the deep, dark, dangerous woods for each of these, which brings them into all kinds of adventures and close calls. Unlike many fairy tales, not everything turns out happily ever after for everyone, although the ending is satisfying.
Remarkably, since most of the main performers are primarily actors, not singers, their songs are resonant and on pitch. Of course, Anna Kendrick has already made her singing mark in Pitch Perfect 1 and 2, and Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia and Prairie Home Companion, but they seem to be even better here. Sondheim’ and Lapine’s songs are as lilting and tuneful as ever, and when the whole cast sings in chorus, the music swells. To me, one of the most entertaining songs is “Your Fault”, in which five or six characters all sing at the same time, shifting blame for something from one to the other. Like this, there are many humorous moments, along with the drama and suspense.
Something entertaining and fun for musical lovers.
By Donna R. Copeland