Into the Woods
Director Rob Marshall
seems to have made it a career goal to revive the great American musical by
committing some of the greatest Broadway titles in history onto celluloid.
I suppose that makes a certain amount of sense, because Marshall got his
start on the Great White Way.
His filmmaking career
started with a bang when Marshall brought Bob Fosse's Chicago to life
with wonderful success (and six Oscars, including Best Picture). After a
sidetrack to make an unsuccessful adaptation of the popular book Memoirs
of a Geisha, Marshall returned to Broadway with a version of the early
80s hit Nine. Sadly, that film turned out to be a whiff – not coming
close to capturing the charm of the play. After another sidetrack on
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Marshall has returned to
the well of his original inspiration once again.
This time out, he may
have taken his biggest chance yet, taking on Into the Woods, Stephen
Sondheim and James Lapine's classic lampoon of Grimms' Fairy Tales.
However, this time out, Marshall's excessive ambition ended out working to
his advantage. Into the Woods is arguably his finest work, even
better than the fantastic Chicago, if for no other reason than the
fact that the source material was so much more complex.
Into the Woods comes hot
on the heels of the gawdawful adaptation of another classic Broadway
musical, Of course, then
again, maybe I'm grading on a curve because Annie.
The basic idea of Into
the Woods is the mashing together of a few classic fairytales –
"Cinderella," "Jack & the Beanstalk," "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Rapunzel"
– as well as an original tale of the baker and his wife.
considered children's stories, the Brothers Grimm's output tended to be a
lot darker, more violent and downbeat than typical kid's fare. Into the
Woods embraced this dichotomy, taking witty and decidedly mature looks
at these classic parables.
It also takes a
refreshingly cynical look at the idea of "happy ever after."
Anna Kendrick plays
Cinderella, a beautiful and sad skullery maid whose life is made miserable
by her evil stepmother (Christine Baranski) and stepsisters (Lucy Punch and
Tammy Blanchard). She finally has the opportunity to get dressed up and
visit the royal ball, but is disappointed to find that Prince Charming
(Chris Pine) is a vain, shallow pretty boy.
Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy)
escapes her tower and finds love with her own vapid prince (Billy Magnussen).
Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla
Crawford) is a bit of a shoplifter and has a ravenous sweet tooth, however
she does not realize the dangers that lurk in the woods, including a vaguely
pedophilic, predatory wolf (Johnny Depp).
Jack (Daniel Huttlestone)
is trying to save his poor (and slightly cross) mother (Tracey Ullman) by
selling his beloved cow (though he is more like trying to pawn her
temporarily). He trades the cow for magic beans, with which he is able to
grow a huge beanstalk and steal gold from giants in the sky. However, when
the giants come down to get restitution, the whole kingdom is in danger.
All of these characters
are tied together through the story of the baker (James Corden) and his wife
(Emily Blunt). They are living a barren existence when they are told by the
blue-haired witch next door (Meryl Streep) that they have been cursed to not
have children, however she will lift the curse if they retrieve four things
from her in the woods.
The acting is wonderful
and the singing is mostly above average as well. Not surprisingly, Streep
steals the film (doing a much better job in musical work than she did a few
years ago in Mamma Mia!) Blunt and Kendrick also have surprisingly
supple voices, which is all the more impressive because of Sondheim's tricky
lyrics and complicated tunes.
While it goes on a
bit too long (much of the last half hour could have easily been cut),
Into the Woods is a rousing bit of entertainment. It's certainly the
best movie musical since Les Miserables.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2014 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: December 25, 2014.