Never having seen the stage version of "Into The Woods", I had nothing to compare. But that does not diminish the enjoyment I derived from watching this extraordinary musical directed by the very talented Rob Marshall.
With a fantastic screenplay by James Lapine, who also wrote the book for the musical, and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the screen adaptation also features a truly marvelous cast. Meryl Streep, who can virtually do no wrong, stars as the Witch who has placed a curse on the poor baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt), causing them to be childless.
In order to reverse the curse, the lonely couple must find and procure certain items for the Witch from classic fairy tale characters, such as Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Jack and the Beanstalk (Daniel Huttlestone) and Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy). Along the way, they manage to encounter the Big, Bad Wolf (Johnny Depp), Cinderella's Prince (Chris Pine) and Cinderella's stepmother (Christine Baranski).
"Into The Woods" is quite hilarious, at times, and highly entertaining. Pine and Billy Magnussen, who plays Rapunzel's Prince, have a terrific scene showcasing their masculine attributes. It's a hoot. And, though his part is rather small, who wouldn't love Depp as the Wolf? It's a role tailor-made for his shenanigans.
I am not an Anna Kendrick fan, but I must admit that I did find her performance better than expected. She makes a believable Cinderella, though I still don't like her singing voice. Blunt, however, is a totally different story --- I love her and her musical ability. She's downright adorable --- perfect for the role of the baker's wife. Even in a frumpy frock, she's still gorgeous --- just ask Cinderella's Prince.
Streep is her usual fabulous self. It's hard to imagine anyone else playing the Witch because she's so doggone gifted --- and funny. She truly makes us feel sorry for her when Rapunzel eventually runs away with her Prince, despite the fact she had kept the poor girl locked in a tower all of her life.
There are some awesome sets for all of these characters to romp through, courtesy of Anna Pinnock, with production design by Dennis Gassner, The "wicked" costumes are designed by Colleen Atwood.
In order for a musical such as this to translate to film, all of these components are necessary and vastly important. Marshall has assembled an excellent crew, and it is clearly apparent that everyone who worked on "Into The Woods" is an expert in their respective fields.
Opinion: See It Now!
We knew Meryl Streep ("Mamma Mia!"), Anna Kendrick ("Pitch Perfect"), and to a certain extent, Johnny Depp ("Sweeney Todd"), could sing. But who knew about Chris Pine and Emily Blunt? Rob Marshall, the director of the new movie musical "Into The Woods", had no clue, and was essentially blown away by their musical ability.
Marshall struck gold in 2002 with his Oscar-nominated smash "Chicago", but he followed that up with the disastrous "Nine" in 2009. Now, with a superb cast spearheaded by the ethereal Ms. Streep, Marshall has another hit.
"Into The Woods" weaves together elements of four classic fairy tales to tell a unique script written for the screen by James Lapine, a Tony winner for the original version on Broadway. Along with the inimitable Stephen Sondheim's music and lyrics, "Into The Woods" is a winner --- entertaining and amusing.
Playing a vengeful Witch, Streep curses a young baker (James Corden) and his wife (Blunt) so they can never have children. This is revenge for a curse of eternal ugliness placed on her earlier. To revert to her former beauty, the Witch needs some help, so she demands that the couple amass four components from familiar stories: a cow as white as milk ("Jack and the Beanstalk"), hair as yellow as corn ("Rapunzel"), a cape as red as blood ("Little Red Riding Hood"), and a slipper as pure as gold ("Cinderella").
Kendrick and Blunt are marvelous singers, and while Pine can carry a tune, more importantly he brings a large dose of humor to his role as Prince to Kendrick's Cinderella. Not to be confused with Rapunzel's Prince (Billy Magnussen), the two share a duet called "Agony" that had our screening audience rollicking. But the best number --- and there are a number of good ones --- has five of the cast members in a rapid-fire exchange of lyrics that is perfectly executed.
The set design and costuming are special, but "Into The Woods" belongs to the singers. I appreciate a good musical --- "Les Miz" will always be my favorite --- but this film is very contagious.
Streep, at 65, shows no signs of slowing down. Kendrick is very appealing as Cinderella. Depp is totally in his element as the Wolf in "Riding Hood" --- he loves to dress up as wild and distinctive characters. Blunt is beautiful and touching. Corden is well-known in Great Britain for his TV roles and the London stage, and he is about to become a household name in the U.S. after he takes over hosting duties for Craig Ferguson on the "Late, Late Show".
Tracey Ullman is a hoot as Jack's mother. Daniel Huttlestone, who plays Jack, looks and sounds like he could step into the role of Gavroche, the street urchin from "Les Miz". In fact, he played Gavroche in the 2012 film, and also on stage at the Queen's Theatre in London. Last but not least, 12-year-old Lilla Crawford almost steals the show as Red Riding Hood. "Into The Woods" is her feature film debut, and she is terrific.
It's a film the whole family can enjoy, although clearly there are some elements not suitable for younger children --- marital infidelity, greed, death, dishonesty --- to name a few. Streep's Witch, though, is not too scary for little ones --- Margaret Hamilton's "Wicked Witch of the West" in 1939 was far more terrifying. And the giant from "Jack and the Beanstalk" is actually a woman, played by Frances de la Tour (a riot on the BBC's "Vicious"). We never really see her in close-up detail as she is partially hidden by the trees in the forest.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!