Movie Review: Into the Woods

SPOILER******DON'T READ IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IT!!!

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Released recently is Walt Disney's interpretation on Sondheim's "Into The Woods", the broadway musical that writes multiple story characters (Cinderella, Jack [beanstalk], Red Riding Hood, The Baker/Wife) together in a one-of-a-kind journey. The movie begins with the narrator's prologue and setting of the plot. We find the above characters laid in their traditional scenarios (Jack selling his cow for money [beans], Cinderella wishing to go to the ball [King's Festival], Riding Hood going to see Granny, Baker and his Wife wishing for a child. We find out through the first of many awesome performances by Meryl Streep (The Witch) that the Baker's family tree has been cursed (due to stealing magic beans...and greens) and cannot bear children unless they bring specific items to the witch before midnight three nights later. Oddly enough, the items are a 'cow as white as milk', 'cape as red as blood', 'hair as yellow as corn', and a 'slipper as pure as gold'. The journeys of our characters all lead our them 'into the woods'. For those not familiar with the musical, you can already see where this is going. Over the course of the movie the Baker (along with hilarious efforts from his wife) ends up getting the items (though not without some magic, clever twists, Rapunzel, and a very emotional "Stay With Me" by Ms. Streep). The witch breaks the curse and goes from Black-Cauldron-Witch Meryl to Meryl-in-a-Blue-Dress witch.

Immediately, the Baker's wife has her child and all Happily-Ever-After (but this is Sondheim we're talking about...). Later, through the antics of a certain beanstalk climber, the entire cast is in peril from the widowed giant-ess and (after a blame game of sorts and Streep going all Secret World of Alex Mack) the Baker devises a plan to take her down. Of course it works, but not before paying a hefty price. In an ending of sorts, the finale will leave you in awe, and taking its cue from the original material, we see one last "I wish" from Cinderella. I know I skipped a LOT of in between plot, but that's the general "nutshell" of the movie. See it if you want to know everything else.

Concerning the actual review, I was curious as to how much Sondheim could be "Disney-fied" and still remain true to the original source material. There is also the matter of fitting a 3.5 hour musical into 2 hours and 4 minutes...the first 14 of which is a Prologue. Many critics complained that the original musical seemed to try and cram too much into its run, and it seemed Disney almost fell into this gap. There are some cut numbers for time reasons, as well as altering the role of some characters and some scenes (i.e. the mysterious character, no Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel in a swamp and not a desert, no sacrifice of narrator, etc.). With Sondheim's gory killings and thorny thingys, Disney let you know what was happening... but made it PG for the kiddies who may have been viewing. The cast did well enough capturing their roles and brought humor to the scene. Pine was wonderful and hysterical in "Agony" and Anna Kendrick surprised all with her adaptations. What solidified her performance for me was "On the Steps of the Palace". Note: the original was in D...Kendrick sings it in E-flat (higher) and nails it! My original concern, however, was Meryl Streep...unlike her Pitch Perfect and Sweeney Todd colleagues, I didn't imagine her to be the singing type. However, I tell you now that Streep SLAYS, and does so with emotion and charisma that does the adaptation justice. The children roles are fantastically delivered. I found "Jack" and "Red Riding Hood" quite enjoyable in their numbers. The Baker and his wife were not awe inspiring, but had wonderful chemistry between them and seemed to come to life more in the scenes with Streep and Kendrick. There are points in the movie that seemed a bit rushed (similar to the musical), but I chalked that up to time and plot-line. Overall, I look for this movie to earn multiple nominations and rightfully so. I give it an 8.5/10. It's worth the time for the theaters.

NB

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