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Director: Rob Marshall
Writers: James Lapine (Screenplay), James Lapine (Musical), Stephen Sondheim (Lyricist)
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Chris Pine, Christine Baranski, Lilla Crawford, Daniel Huttlestone
Release Date: December 25, 2014
Runtime: 2 hrs. 4 min.
MPAA Rating: PG

 

 

Hollywood has made it a habit in recent years to take successful Broadway shows and adapt them for the screen. This has led to a resurgence of that lost gem of Hollywood films: the musical. Beginning approximately with 2002’s Chicago, the twenty-oughts saw a steady stream of musicals, including film adaptations of The Phantom of the Opera and Mamma Mia! Going back and looking at box-office records, you’d be hard-pressed to find a date that didn’t have at least one in wide release, something that couldn’t be said for the previous two or three decades (despite the occasional A Star is Born or Victor/Victoria). Turn to the current decade, and the musical seems well-ensconced as a theater regular. In fact, last year’s third highest grossing film domestically, number one overall worldwide, was Disney’s musical Frozen (read my review here). It’s the first musical to crack the top ten all-time list, sitting at number five with over a billion dollars in revenue. Now, Into the Woods is not about to break any records, but it is a part of this everything old is new again trend. And it’s a pretty good movie to boot. Click through for my full review.

As I alluded to above, Into the Woods is an adaptation of a Broadway play (debuted on Broadway in 1987, and opened in San Diego in 1986), written by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim. It had a bunch of success back in the 80s and 90s, with revivals in both New York and London, as well as numerous travelling and local productions. It continues to be produced regularly, and with it’s different take on fairy-tales, along with the recent popularity of such television fare as Grimm and Once Upon A Time, it’s a natural to make the transition to the big screen.

The basic story is a mash-up of several familiar fairy-tales: Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, with a smattering here and there of other genre tropes. The main storyline that draws all of them together is that of a Baker [James Corden] and his Wife [Emily Blunt] who want nothing more than to have a child. Enter their neighbor, the Witch [Meryl Streep], who tells them that the reason they can’t have a child is because of a curse she placed on the house when the Baker was an infant – because his father stole some magic beans from her garden. She tells them that there is one way to undo the curse, and to have the child they so desire – they must gather together four items within three days: 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 items and their related fairy-tales will be immediately familiar to most western audiences, but how the couple goes about trying to retrieve them is where the adventure and occasional dark humor come in. Without going into any details – I don’t want to spoil the movie – let’s just say that the mash-up results in a version of these stories that are most definitely not those of your childhood memories.

The singing is, across the board, better than serviceable, with the two youngest stars, Jack [Daniel Huttlestone] and Little Red Riding Hood [Lilla Crawford] being particularly outstanding. Streep does as good a job here as she did in Mamma Mia!, which is to say that she was really quite good at that. In addition, Anna Kendrick (as Cinderella) and Chris Pine (as Prince Charming) do very well, she being the stronger singer of the two. The weakest of the bunch to my ear was Johnny Depp’s Wolf, although his massive creep factor in the role more than made up for his slightly thin voice.

While I would definitely recommend waiting until the children are a bit older before taking them to see this film, tweens and teens should be fine. There is some violence, but nothing terribly graphic, and the interplay can be a bit mature at times, but the movie overall sits comfortably in the PG rating it was given. This movie is not as good as Frozen (which I mysteriously awarded a grade of “B” in a moment of over-critical response), but it is a fun little ride nonetheless.

Steve’s Grade: B-
A solid adaptation of Lapine and Sondheim’s play, which intelligently mashes together several favorite childhood fairy-tales with a darkly humorous bent. Not for the little ones, but take your teens.

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