Movie Review: “Into the Woods” Is Simply Magical

Photos: Walt Disney Pictures

27 years after “Into the Woods” saw its Broadway debut, the beloved twisted fairytale musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine lights up the silver screen. Sondheim, one of Broadway’s most renowned composers and lyricists, entrusted the film adaptation of “Into the Woods” into the hands of Disney and director Rob Marshall (“Chicago,” “Nine”). The end result is a magical one, from the stellar cast to the vibrant costumes and graceful camera work. While the movie version may mostly appeal to fans of the musical, the performances of Emily Blunt, Chris Pine and Meryl Streep should be reason enough to visit the theater for 124-minutes of pure entertainment.

“Into the Woods” has been twelve years in the making; ever since Marshall expressed interest in directing the movie version. Mostly, the “Chicago” director stayed true to the original musical. The story weaves through some of the best known characters in the history of fairy tales. In a far-off kingdom, there is a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt), a day-dreaming young boy named Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), and an irate evil witch (Meryl Streep). Sound familiar? One day, the witch storms in on the baker and his wife, reminding them of the curse that leaves them childless and unable to have a baby. In order to break the evil spell, the witch orders them to venture into the woods and fetch a cow as white as milk, hair as yellow as corn, a cape as red as blood and a slipper as pure as gold. If they can bring her all of these items in three days’ time, they will have their child. And so the journey begins…

The baker first encounters Little Red Riding Hood who is, of course, on her way to her grandmother’s house. And as fairy tale fate would have it, she is swallowed up by a slimy wolf (Johnny Depp), before the baker saves her life. The baker’s wife finds the slipper as pure as gold when she stumbles upon Cinderella running through the woods as she flees from Prince Charming (Chris Pine). The hair as yellow as corn belongs to Rapunzel, who hopes her Prince (Billy Magnussen) will save her from her tower. Sondheim and Lapine cleverly wove each story together so that all of the characters would eventually meet. Just as the audience begins to think it all ends happily ever after, that infamous giant climbs down Jack’s beanstalk to destroy the kingdom below. All collaborate to find a way to defeat the giant and save their homes.

With a score and songbook that is one of the catchiest and most melodic in the world of musicals, “Into the Woods” already had a strong backbone. But Marshall’s creative team truly brought the fable to life with his Oscar and Emmy winning team: Colleen Atwood’s costume design, Peter Swords King’s makeup and hair design, Dennis Gassner’s production design and Wyatt Smith’s editing. 

As for performances, each one is praise-worthy. The casting department looked to Lilla Crawford to play Little Red Riding Hood. The young actress who is best known for portraying Annie in the 2012 Broadway revival is just as adorable and vocally impressive on screen as she is on stage. Daniel Huttlestone made his mark as the young Gavroche in the film version of “Les Miserable.” He was certainly born to play Jack. Huttlestone has an energetic spirit that penetrates the screen. Chris Pine is utterly hilarious as Prince Charming. One of the best scenes of the film is the “Agony” duet with Pine and Magnussen. And while Meryl Streep is, as always, memorable; it is Emily Blunt who steals the show. Blunt has incredible comedic timing and her singing voice is beautiful. In fact, she may have the most laughs throughout the film. Let’s just say that Blunt deserves her Golden Globe nomination.

The magic of “Into the Woods” hits theaters just in time for Christmas. Even if you’re not a fan of musicals, I guarantee you’ll be singing the songs long after the end credits roll.

By Pamela Price

Rated PG for thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material.  

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