New reviews, interviews, and features via RSS or Email.

Sponsored Links

Into the Woods

(2014) *** 1/2 Pg
124 min. Walt Disney Pictures. Director: Rob Marshall. Cast: Chris Pine, Anna Kendrick, Daniel Huttlestone, Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden.

/content/films/4755/1.jpg"Careful the tale you tell...Children will listen." The 1987 Broadway musical Into the Woods—with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (Sweeney Todd) and book by James Lapine—appears, on the surface, to be a postmodern consideration of fairy tales and what kids derive from them. But Into the Woods is a far more multilayered work than that (as is Sondheim's wont), and I'm happy to report that Walt Disney Pictures and director Rob Marshall (Chicago) haven't broken it with their cinematic adaptation.

"So into the woods you go again,/You have to every now and then./Into the woods, no telling when,/Be ready for the journey." The most towering works of art seem to be about no less than life itself, and Into the Woods qualifies as its characters' forays into the woods, in pursuit of their wishes, reveal it to be a place of Jungian shadows. The characters mostly comprise a mashup of Grimm fairy tales—bean-buying Jack (Daniel Huttlestone of Les Misérables) and his mother (Tracey Ullmann), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), and Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy)—but the play adds a Baker (James Corden), his wife (Emily Blunt), and a Witch (Meryl Streep) who promises them a child in exchange for their help.

"Careful the wish you make/Wishes are children/Careful the path they take/Wishes come true, not free." Conflicting desires, the fallout therein, and the terrifying responsibilities and fears of parenting all come into play as secrets and crises emerge. The story's "happily ever after" first act, a childishly innocence, yields to a disturbing second act, of tough adult truths (disappointment, death, war, infidelity).

The play has been trimmed, ostensibly by screenwriter Lapine, mostly judiciously and rarely recklessly (though the foolish hackjob done to the play's "Finale" is close to criminal). The film's most valuable player is music supervisor and conductor Paul Gemignani, the (highly skilled) Sondheim vet who performed the same honors for Tim Burton's film of Sweeney Todd, but Woods has also been exceptionally well cast by Marshall, with top honors going to Streep, Blunt (who sticks the landing of "Moments in the Woods"), Corden, and juvenile performers Crawford and Huttlestone.

Though any film adaptation of a classic musical is bound to be a mixed bag, Sondheim fans have dodged another bullet here with this impressive transplant, one that retains the play's complicated moral character along with most of its music. "Wrong things, right things.../Who can say what's true?.../Do things, fight things.../You decide, but.../You are not alone.../Witches can be right. Giants can be good./You decide what's right. You decide what's good."

Share/bookmark: Digg Facebook Fark Furl Google Bookmarks Newsvine Reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo! My Web Permalink Permalink
Sponsored Links