Kyle J. Steenblik

Into The Woods is magic abridged

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4 stars out of 5Into The Woods
Directed by: Rob Marshall
ITW_1-Sht_v18_LgWritten by: James Lapine
Music by: Stephen Sondheim
Starring: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Johnny Depp
Release date: December 25, 2014
Running time: 124 minutes
Rated PG for thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material

 

Into The Woods is a brilliant adaptation of an equally brilliant Tony Award winning Broadway musical.  It’s a musical I am  very familiar with, it is one that I saw early on in my childhood, and have loved ever since.  I have longed to see my favorite musical adapted to my favorite medium, film, and I dreaded it happening.  Many stage musicals do not make good adaptations to the screen.  Simply because of the changes and cuts needed to keep the pacing smooth.  Unless you are a brave filmmaker intended to add some kind of visual scene change and intermissions, which modern movie-going audiences would most likely not tolerate very well, the story must be cut and stitched together to keep it flowing.  That said this adaptation is as close to what I pictured when I imagined this on screen so many years ago.  The two reasons I believe this adaptation worked so well is first because of Director Rob Marshall, and second Writer James Lapine/ Stephen Sondheim.  Rob Marshall is best known now for the films Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha.  He is an incredibly visual director, and began as a choreographer, earning several Tony Awards, if anyone can take a production from stage to screen it is him.  Writers James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim originally wrote the play and the music, the original playwright and composers do not rewrite most adaptations, I don’t know that I would have trusted anyone else with this one.

Into The Woods is the story of a childless Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) and their neighbor The Witch (Meryl Streep).  When the baker was a child his mother was pregnant with his sister, and she developed an unusual craving for the produce in the neighboring witch’s garden.  The baker’s father was quick, to sneak into the witches garden and harvest her greens, but he was caught.  The witch decided  to let him go, in exchange for the baby, what she didn’t know is that he had taken a handful of her magic beans.  When the baker left with the beans, the witch was cursed with ugliness, so in turn she cursed the baker and his family, that his family would never again have children.  However, there is a way for both of their curses to be lifted.  The backer, and his wife, must collect the cape a red a blood, the cow as white a milk, the shoe as pure as gold, and hair as yellow as corn.  As so, the baker and his wife journey into the woods to lift the curse, to have a child.

Meanwhile Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) wishes to go to the ball to meet her prince (Chris Pine).  When her wicked stepmother (Christine Baranski) refuses to allow her to go Cinderella sneaks to her mother’s grave, where a great willow tree has grown watered by Cinderella’s tears.  At her mother’s tree she wishes for a gown to go to the ball, and she is granted a beautiful golden gown with slippers as pure as gold.

Meanwhile a young girl (Lilla Crawford) is bringing her grandmother a basket of pastries she got from the baker and his wife earlier.  She is traveling a well known path through the woods, in her trusty cape as read as blood, when she encounters a charismatic wolf (Johnny Depp), who persuades her to stray from her path after finding out where she is going.

Elsewhere, The Witch has the baker’s sister locked in a tower, kept safe from the world, beautiful young Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) whose hair  (which is yellow as corn) is the only gateway to her room.  As The Witch visits they are seen by the other prince (Billy Magnussen), who is instantly infatuated with Rapunzel.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, young Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) is encouraged to bring his best friend, Milky White (the cow as white as milk) to market to sell, by Jack’s mother (Tracey Ullman).

In the woods, everyone’s paths cross, and re-cross, as The Baker and his wife collect the items they need for the witch.  The prince chases Cinderella, the other prince woos Rapunzel, Jack sells his cow for magic beans, and Little Red Riding Hood is eaten by the wolf and rescued by The Baker.  As each journeys through the woods, they find what they wished for is not exactly what they expected.

Into The Woods is visually stunning.  Each part is cast, and performed exceptionally well, and the cast is simply enchanting.  I have very little to take issue with on the adaptation itself.  I do feel some elements were changed to accommodate for a younger audience and to fit a more cheerful narrative.  I think, overall that was a mistake, but seeing as how I am reviewing this film, and not the original work, I will not compare the two anymore.  I very much enjoyed James Corden as the baker.  I feel he sold the story, and carried the majority of the film.  Meryl Streep performed admirably; The Witch is a challenging role, requiring perfect amounts of malice and comic timings.  The role also has some of the most challenging songs for any singer.  Both Corden and Streep were able to bring a tear to my eye as they both have some of the most heartbreaking musical numbers.  Musial numbers I have seen butchered in other performances.

Into The Woods is magical.  My only significant complaint is the compression of the second and third acts.  Too many important elements are glossed over, and if you blink, you miss some crucial plot points.  I would have opted for a longer film with more stories.  The film itself is suitable for young children, however if your child has a shorter attention span, they may become bored halfway through the woods, but if they can make it, they will be singing songs for weeks to come.

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