Rob Marshall directs Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden and Anna Kendrick with a host of other stars in Into the Woods an adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s hugely popular stage musical by the same name. The musical takes popular children’s tale of Cinderella, Rapunzel,Jack and the beanstalk, the little red riding hood and mashes them together to tell the story of the characters after the happily ever after.
James Corden and Emily Blunt play the baker and his wife who live next door to the witch Meryl Streep. The witch tells the baker and his wife that they cannot have kids because of a spell she cast on his father many years ago and that she would help them lift the spell if they help her make a potion before the blue moon. For the potion the baker and his wife must find 4 things from the different fairytale characters, cow as white as milk from Jack, a cape as red as blood from little red riding hood, hair as yellow as corn from Rapunzel and slipper of gold from Cinderella.
The four main characters played by Blunt, Corden, Kendrick and Streep take up the most time on screen and are brilliant both individually and also together bouncing off witty, banter-y songs of each other. The opening number where the witch speaks of her garden was one of the highlights for me. Another song featuring 2 brothers, both princes, one to Cinderella and one to Rapunzel, both preening peacocks each trying to out-do the other is by far the most guffaw-inducing number of the movie. Chris Pine channels his inner Elvis and is at his charismatic best. Often I have found Pine to be too broody for my liking but here as the posturing prince charming he has perfect comic timing and the smolder to suit his princely ways. Meryl Streep is the goddess at whose altar I pray, so it should come as no surprise that I love her in everything she does. But here as the witch she is mesmerizing both as the old ugly one and the young beautiful one as well. I saw an interview with Sondheim where he spoke of Streep being able to bring color to her singing and I wondered what he meant. But when you hear her sing “Stay With me” to Rapunzel you want to get up on your feet and give her a standing ovation as would be customary in a stage show. She is majestic and I wish she does more musicals. Kendrick sure has the pipes as does Blunt, but the standout for me once again is Daniel Huttlestone as jack who first shone bright on the screen as Gavroche in Les Miserables. He bounces around with boundless energy up and down the beanstalk trying to buy back the cow he sold to the baker.
Sondheim’s musical was much loved when it first appeared on stage some 30 years ago and admired for its witty sense of humor and intelligent songs. Bringing him onboard they have kept the essence of the original story alive and the humor carries through. However the first act is stronger than the second and it suffers a little bit due to overcrowding and trying to tie up loose ends with the stories. Having said that I wish a little more attention was paid to the beautiful Crishtine Baranski as Cinderella’s evil step mother and the story of Rapunzel and her mother the Witch been fleshed out a little more. There is always a little more to the fairy tales than it meets the eyes and Sondheim writes that beautifully. The story of Little Red Riding Hood played by Lilla Crawford and the Wolf played by Johnny Depp ends up being a creepy story of a pedophile wolf who stalks Red. Depp chews up the scenery in the brief appearance and is brilliantly creepy as Mr Wolf. It is a story of the consequences of wishes. Each of the characters wishes for something but then when the wishes come true they are unable to come to term with the consequences of the events that unfold. They lie, steal, cheat and run from all they wished for. This is a story with many layers which are ripe for peeling away with multiple viewing. It is not a child’s version of the fairy tale but a more grown up one only if you looked closely. However having said that there is something in it for everyone, even the kids because as fairy tales themselves they are told beautifully.
This is a truly amazingly crafted movie with wonderful singing by all its stars. The production is lush and detailed and Coleen Atwood’s costume design very fairy tale worthy. This is a movie for all ages and worthy of being enjoyed in a theatre. I hope you are as lucky to have an excellent audience as I did who laughed at the right moments, clapped generously and sang along with the credits. Take your family Into the Woods and enjoy a Musical done well.
On a side note this will be Meryl Streep’s 19th Oscar Nomination and very likely 4th Win. To those who roll their eyes at the mention of her name go watch Into the Woods and then tell me if anyone else could’ve been a better Witch, wild and erratic yet restrained and vulnerable. Take a bow Ms Streep.