January 28, 2015
"Into the Woods" is a musical play with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. It made its Broadway debut on November 5, 1987, when it won several Tony Awards, including Best Score, Best Book, and Best Actress in a Musical (Joanna Gleason). Bernadette Peters memorably portrayed the Witch, singing the main song for which the show is known,"Children Will Listen."
A baker and his wife was cursed childless by a vengeful wicked witch. The witch asks for four special items in order to break the spell. The couple crosses paths with various Brothers Grimm fairy tale characters, like Little Red Riding Hood, Jack (and the Beanstalk), Rapunzel, and Cinderella in their quest. Unfortunately, the merry mix-up of circumstances still do not seem to work in their favor. Will they be able to meet the witch's deadline and finally get the child they had long been waiting for? Will everyone be getting their happily-ever-after?
Understandably, owing to the fantasy nature of this story, film is expected to be an ideal medium for the tale to unfold. This film version was just begging to be done. Now, thanks to Disney, the dream of the original show's many fans is finally a reality. I had seen a local production of the play many years ago and I remember I liked it very much. The all-star cast assembled as well as the awards buzz around it made me very excited to see it.
Director Rob Marshall had worked on film versions of three other Broadway hits before with mixed results. His first directorial job was the TV version of "Annie" in 1999, winning Emmys. He hit the major jackpot with "Chicago" in 2002, going on to win the Oscar for Best Picture and five other categories, nominated for 7 more. His interpretation of "Nine" (2009) though did not go too well, but it still earned him four Oscar nominations. "Into the Woods" gets three nominations: Supporting Actress, Production Design and Costume Design (by Colleen Atwood, who already won Oscars for her work in "Chicago", "Memoirs of a Geisha" and "Alice in Wonderland").
James Corden plays the Baker, yet another kindly gentle musical man in his list of characters much similar to those he played in "Begin Again" and " One Chance." He projects real goodness on his face, making him fit for this role. Emily Blunt not only displays her talents for drama and comedy, but also surprises us with her singing prowess in her role as Baker's Wife. This was a far departure from her other big role in 2014, that of the futuristic battle heroine in "Edge of Tomorrow," proving her versatility.
Meryl Streep earns yet another Oscar nomination (Best Supporting Actress) for her role as the Witch. This gives her a grand total of 19 nominations from the Academy, for which she has won three. Ms. Streep goes all over the top in her performance here. That she can sing is not a surprise anymore since she took on "Mamma Mia." I think she could get a nomination in whatever film she is in really if the role is unique enough, even though it is not really one of her best.
Anna Kendrick plays Cinderella, with Chris Pine as her Prince Charming and Christine Baranski as her Stepmother. If you have read the original Grimm version of Cinderella and how gruesome the shoe fitting went, this was how it was done here. Johnny Depp plays the Big Bad Wolf to Lilla Crawford's Little Red Riding Hood. Their first encounter where the Wolf singing "Hello, Little Girl" was supposedly tamed down from the original stage version but it was still very uncomfortable to watch.
The first half of the film was so much fun to watch with all the action so cleanly edited together the complex story of intertwining fairytales flowed very smoothly and hilariously. Fun and momentum bogs down quite a bit, making time pass a little more slowly in the stranger, more darkly contemplative second half. Anyhow for me, this is one entertaining movie overall. However, those not familiar with with the original play and its music may not like it as much as I did, or even flat out hate it. 8/10.