INTO THE WOODS
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine,
Tracey Ullman, Daniel Huttlestone, Lilla Crawford, Christina Baranski, Johnny
Director: Rob Marshall
Audio: DTS HD 7.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.39:1
Studio: Walt Disney
Features: See Review
Length: 125 Minutes
Release Date: March 24, 2015
“Children will listen…”
Into the Woods has long been a favorite stage musical of mine. I never saw it live, but I saw a PBS broadcast of the show with the original cast, and I owned the soundtrack album. Stephen Sondheim, who had long been a bona fide genius of music and lyrics, had achieved something of a pinnacle with these songs, accompanying a brilliant story that took some very familiar fairy tales and found a way to bring them all together.
I’m only surprised it took almost 30 years to get a film adaptation of it. Maybe it was waiting for the right director in Rob Marshall, who proved he was the man to do it with his excellent and Oscar-winning take on Chicago.
This film is a wonderful take on the story…shortened just a little, but otherwise faithful to the spirit and imagination of the play. The cast is first rate from top to bottom, and all of them do their own singing, which is for me the ONLY way to make a filmed musical valid. If you have real singers dubbing in the parts later, your movie will NOT darken my home theatre.
It tells the tale of Cinderella (Kendrick), Jack (Huttlestone) of beanstalk fame, Little Red Riding Hood (Crawford) and Rapunzel, mostly focused on the family she never knew, who are the baker (Corden) and his wife (Blunt). The witch (Streep) informs them of the curse of Rapunzel, whom she took away when the baker’s father stole from her garden, and is also the reason why the baker and his wife cannot have a child.
She does, however, offer a solution: go to the woods and bring back four special ingredients. If they can return with a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold, the curse may be undone…what an ingenious way to bring all the classic stories together!
There is hope, laughter, and tragedy afoot, although some of the darker moments have been toned down a little here. All characters have wishes, and will do just about anything to see them come true, but sometimes, that comes with a price…especially here since their combined efforts (or carelessness) leaves a destructive giant in the midst of the kingdom.
The magic of the movie lies in the amazing music of Sondheim and the vivid imagination of Marshall, but also with the amazing casting. I wish they had opted for Bernadette Peters over Streep…she was the original stage star, and has to be no older than Meryl, but Ms. Streep proves her mettle in an Oscar-nominated performance. But all have terrific voices, particularly Anna Kendrick. Even Chris Pine as the prince has a show-stopping moment with “Agony”, and of course, Johnny Depp returns to singing Sondheim once again in a small role as the wolf who tempts Red Riding Hood.
Some of the cuts from the stage show include the baker’s father, who in the play was also the narrator…he is reduced to a flashback, when originally his spirit was moving things along. That also means my absolute favorite song from the show, a duet between the baker and his father called “No More”, was shelved in order to shorten the film.
But many other classics are here, including two of Sondheim’s best ever compositions. “Children Will Listen” and “No One is Alone” are the songs that really drive home the theme of the story, and both are performed beautifully by the cast.
This is wonderful, enchanting entertainment from start to finish, and if I’m left with any question at all in comparing this movie to the stage show, there’s only this: why did it take so long?
Disney delivers an absolutely perfect high definition transfer…many scenes are in the woods, and darker, but every detail and color still rings through with absolute clarity and crispness, with nothing turning murky or showing evidence of compression. Highest marks!
No surprise that most of the uncompressed audio is driven by the dynamic and rich music, but there are also scenes that really get the subwoofer moving (giants, anyone?), and some other big scenes that really open up the listening experience on all stages.
There are four short featurettes on the making of the film, plus one specifically on the casting. There’s a commentary by the director and producer, and an ability to jump to any song in the film. Best of all is a new original song by Stephen Sondheim sung by Meryl Streep that was written for the film, but not used.
I feel sorry for anyone who never got to see Into the Woods on stage with the original cast (again, I only saw it televised), but I can say with confidence that this movie version is a very close and faithful second. This quality Blu-ray will bring a little magic into your home.