Movie Review: INTO THE WOODS
Genre: Musical

Production by Disney, Marc Platt Productions, Lucamar Productions
Special effects by Atomic Art and Crafty Apes
Directed by Rob Marshall (of CHICAGO)
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Orchestration by Jonathan Tunick
Book by James Lapine, based on the Broadway play of the same name

Meryl Streep . . . The Witch
Anna Kendrick . . . Cinderella
Johnny Depp . . . The Wolf
Daniel Huttlestone . . . Jack
James Corden . . . the Baker
Emily Blunt . . . the Baker’s wife
Lilla Crawford . . . Little Red Riding Hood
Billy Magnuson . . . Rapunzel’s Prince
Mackenzie Mauzy . . . Rapunzel
Chris Pine . . . Cinderella’s Prince

Story line: A childless baker and his wife, along with several familiar fairy tale characters, find themselves on a quest, looking for wishes in the woods that culminate in some surprises including a lady giant, some princes, and a witch who is both wicked, wise, ugly and beautiful.

The characteristics of a typical movie musical, which have been around since 1929 (THE JAZZ SINGER), include big production numbers, enthusiastic tap dance routines, and generally upbeat happy endings.

INTO THE WOODS ignores all that tradition and gives us a small cast that merely sings superbly while delivering a story that is both clever and thoughtful. In place of dance numbers, our characters walk through the woods and face various adventures and challenges.

The big names do hit it big. Meryl Streep as the witch delivers all you would think – the ugly, angry hag, shows up at first, but we also see her offer a more tender side to the witch. Johnny Depp stands a razor’s edge away from being terribly lecherous as the wolf, staying on the side of almost honorable intentions – at least for a wolf.

The not so big names also offer strong performances. Anna Kendrick offers a Cinderella who knows how to work hard and earn her way to the ball, but still is frightened enough to run when the prince pursues her. Emily Blunt is the self assured Baker’s wife, offering her support to her husband as they both dare to dream of having children.

And the unknowns? Not any more! We will be seeing a great deal more of the lesser known names here. The princes (Magnuson and Pine) are not so unknown – and they deliver a royal bearing to the two princes. Their big moment in the song AGONY is one of the more humorous moments of the show. Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), rookies as they may be in the movie world, come across as if they’ve been doing parts like this for a long time. Huttlestone shows fine vocal work on his GIANTS IN THE SKY solo, and Ms. Crawford? Well, oh, so fine as Little Red. She struck me as being of the same mold as Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross in the recent TRUE GRIT version.

As a matter of fact, the cast ing

As in all fairy tales, director Marshall gives us magic and miracles, scary and tender moments, and some humorous takes from the characters. He keeps the pace going well – and tells the story with every scene. He certainly understands how the characters interact and how the music – of which there is a great deal – is an effective means to tell that story. He uses the cinematic arts in several ways – special effects that include appearing and disappearing witches, sound effects to let us know of approaching giants – and lenses and lighting that make the picture look almost as if it is colorized or animated – or something totally different.

And the music – Sondheim. I need say more. The songs are uniquely his work, and orchestrations highlight the scenery, the acting, and the story.

The costumes and sets – and the other elements of the movie – all combine for a very nice 2 hours and 14 minutes of cinematic goodness.

And oh yes, you may ask if it is a show for kids. It’s no Bambi or other such Disney show, but you could get your 8 year old kid to catch this one easily.

Get yourself to the theatre and enjoy this one.