Fans of a good fairytale are in for a treat come Christmas Day.
Disney’s much anticipated film adaptation of Into the Woods glitters with energetic performances, lush cinematography, and more Meryl (Streep, that is) than one could ever hope for. At just over two hours in length, it’s a delightful film in the hands of Director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha), if sugarcoated a bit from some of the darker subject matter of the original stage production (more on that later). It also helps that Disney had the blessing of the show’s two iconic creators, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. In fact, Lapine, who wrote the original book in 1987, adapted the film script himself. Sondheim too has had his hand in the production, writing two new songs for the film (one of which was ultimately cut from the theatrical version).
An imaginative mashup of familiar Brothers Grimm characters and plot threads, Into the Woods sets its audience in the middle of, well, the woods of a magic kingdom inhabited by not one, but two handsome princes, who happen to share their domain with Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack (of beanstalk fame), to name a few. The framework of the plot hinges on a simple village baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt), who yearn desperately for a child. One fateful day, the Witch next door (Streep) drops by the bakery, revealing to the distraught couple that their inability to conceive harkens back to a generation-old curse placed on their family, a curse which can only be reversed if the two succeed in tracking down four special objects. Fairytale mayhem ensues as the two journey deep into the woods, their fate becoming more and more entwined with the plight of each storybook character they encounter on their scavenger hunt for these four magical objects.
A feast for the eyes thanks to fantastical cinematography at the hands of Dion Beebe (Chicago), the film also soars thanks to the vocal talents of a stellar ensemble cast. Film adaptations of beloved musicals inevitably face intense scrutiny when it comes to casting, especially if the singing abilities of popular film actors don’t measure up to their Broadway counterparts. Luckily, Marshall’s film passes the casting challenge with flying colors, bringing out beautiful vocal performances by the likes of Emily Blunt (who nearly steals the show in many a scene) and Chris Pine, as well as nuanced performances by Broadway actors Lilla Crawford (Red Riding Hood), Daniel Huttlestone (Jack), and Mackenzie Mauzy (Rapunzel).
And just when you think you’ve seen everything Meryl Streep has to offer, she manages to blow us away with a beautifully rendered Witch, lending real depth to a character that could easily fall into the category of caricature. One of the film’s most hilarious surprises, Chris Pine, gives a pitch-perfect comedic performance as Cinderella’s vapid yet charming Prince (most notable during a laugh-out-loud rendition of “Agony”). Broadway purists will find fault with the film’s glossing over some of the original show’s darker undertones, including the decidedly adult relationship between Little Red Riding Hood and The Wolf (a chillingly creepy Johnny Depp), as well as the fate of one main character. Though these tweaks at the hands of Disney certainly sap the story of some of its juicier content, ultimately they will also make it more accessible to families with young children who will surely flock to theaters this December.
Into the Woods opens nationwide on Thursday, December 25.