Into the Woods is the second big screen adaptation of a Stephen Sondheim production in recent movie history. Directed by Rob Marshall, it takes us on a journey to a colorful landscape that features many characters who seem almost familiar. But while these fairy-tales have many familiar aspects due to their cleaned up Disney versions, these story are darker, and much closer to the original Grimm’s stories. Toes are cut off, grannies are swallowed, and eyes are gouged out by thorns.
The world of Into the Woods is populated by many characters, all but two of which are characters in stories we’ve all heard since we were children. Little Red Riding Hood is going to visit her Granny, Cinderella wants to attend the King’s Festival, and Jack doesn’t want to sell his precious cow Milky White. Added into this mix are the Baker and his Wife. While neither of them is a member of the ‘fairy tale canon’ (for lack of a better term), it’s revealed early on that the Baker is no less than Rapunzel’s sister. His father’s stealing of vegetables from the Witch (played brilliantly by Meryl Streep) led to a curse being placed on the family, which can only be released if he and his wife find four items within the next three days. Those items are: a cow as white as milk, a cap as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as bright as gold (can you see where this is going?). The bulk of the movie is them journeying “Into the Woods” and trying to recover these items, while the characters who hold them are dealing with their own adventures.
The movie has a very prevalent theme of ‘be careful what you wish for,’ as several characters get exactly what they wish for, only to find that maybe what they thought they wanted isn’t what they wanted at all. For example, Cinderella just wanted to go the festival, and ends up being pursued by a prince who maybe loves the idea of her more than he loves her. Hang on, though, because partway through the movie is a surprise twist. If you haven’t seen it I won’t ruin it for you.
Musicals by Steven Sondheim are notoriously difficult to perform, or at least that’s what I’ve been told by those who have tried. Therefore it was a good surprise to see so many actors do so well at it. The cast includes those whose faces are familiar to movie musicals, including Meryl Streep (who stared in Mama Mia!), Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect), and the slightly over-billed John Depp (Sweeney Todd). However it’s the one who don’t seem to have the musical experience that take the show. Chris Pine’s Prince is delightfully vapid, arrogant almost to the point of overbearing, and manages to be both obnoxious and endearing. Every singer seems to do well enough in their part, and no one stands out as weak link the cast.
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