“be careful what you wish for” warn the announcements of “into the woods”: an apt summary of the film’s theme and also of the mindset of many stephen sondheim fans since it was announced that the composer The popular 1987 Broadway musical was being made into a movie. But such fears are quickly allayed by director Rob Marshall, who, um, directs Sondheim’s cavalcade of fairy tale stars on screen in a faithful, never particularly inspired, but highly respectable version, one that tops the earlier “chicago Marshall’s. and “nine,” not to mention this season’s two-ton musical monstrosity, “annie.” Solid reviews and family appeal should earn Disney much more than a bunch of magic beans at the Christmas box office, with a long shelf life to follow.
it certainly took hollywood long enough to look at the forest for trees as far as “inside the forest” goes. A film version was first introduced in the mid-’90s at Sony (with Goldie Hawn, Cher, and Steve Martin among the potential cast), then put into frozen development for the next two decades. During that time, “Woods” was twice revived on the New York stage (including director Timothy Sheader’s brilliant outdoor production in Central Park in 2012) and could be felt as an influence on the “Shrek” movies and ( especially) at disney. delighted.” But the announcement that Disney was finally making “Woods” still brought with it a host of anxieties (some fueled by a misquoted Sondheim interview): namely, that House of Mouse would sand down the show’s less familiar elements, including its Lewd pedophile wolf, an episode of marital infidelity, and a second-act body count to rival Sondheim’s own “Sweeney Todd.”
for all these reasons and more, the main virtue of this “inside the forest” is a sense of relief. Marshall hasn’t made one of the great movie musicals here, but he hasn’t messed it up either, far from it. fans who know the show by heart will fully recognize what they see here (and will indeed be able to see it, after the frenetic and convulsive editing of “chicago” and “nine”), while new audiences will more than grasp the gist, a touch condensed and Disneyfied perhaps, but with little overall detriment. if a pre-teen viewer adds sondheim to their ipod playlist along with “let it go”, it will all be worth it.
Drawing more inspiration from “The Uses of Enchantment” author Bruno Bettelheim than Uncle Walt, Sondheim and book writer James Lapine (who also earns a writing credit here) draw a dozen characters from the iconic tales. Grimm’s fairy tales, add a few of your own invention and set them on a tragicomic collision course where “happily ever after” comes with a litany of conditions in small print.
The lineup includes a humble baker (the very handsome James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt), whose bakery is frequented by a spoiled and thieving Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), and who live next door to a haggard old woman. witch (meryl streep) with many axes to grind. Long ago, the witch kidnapped the baker’s little sister, Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), and cursed the baker himself with sterile genes — punishment for the sins of their estranged father (who stole magic beans from the witch’s garden, once upon a time). but the curse can be reversed, the witch announces, provided the baker and his wife get the necessary ingredients within 72 hours: a milk-white cow, a blood-red cape, corn-yellow hair, and a shoe as pure as gold.
It is that quest that brings the childless couple to said forest and into contact with all sorts of fellow travelers who are running to or away from something: Farmer Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), reluctantly goes to the market to sell your beloved but dry dairy cow; Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), chasing a bewildered Prince Charming (Chris Pine); and little red herself, weighing her mother’s advice about strangers against the dandy charms of a certain lord. wolf (a lip-smacking johnny depp in a tilted fedora and some kind of shaggy smoking jacket). For Sondheim and Lapine, these woods are as much a psychological space as a physical one, an existential crucible where innocence is lost, wisdom is gained, and the difficulty of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, be they golden or sized, is felt. giant. Freed from the literal belly of the beast, Little Red Riding Hood sings that her lupine adventure made her feel scared, yes, but also excited, before concluding, “Isn’t it nice to know a lot? / and a little no.” meanwhile, after her own illicit relationship with the forest, the baker’s wife wonders, “is it always ‘or?’/is it never ‘and?'”, one of those deceptively simple sondheim lyrics that feels like a definitive expression of the endless commitment of life.
marshall, who never seemed to quite know what to do with a movie camera and editing machine, is helped considerably here by the fact that “woods” (unlike his previous movie musicals) has no major dances to cut with flash. incoherence. And where both “chicago” and “nine” took pains to present their musical numbers as fantasy sequences, lest multiplex goers be alarmed by actors suddenly bursting into song, “woods” harbors no such concerns. embracing its theatricality down to the finest detail. the smallest details of costumes and scenery. (“Trees are just wood,” Sondheim’s characters sing, but the ones in Marshall’s film, by production designer Dennis Gassner, are more like fiberglass.) Originally proposed film version, complete with elaborate creature effects from Jim Henson’s workshop. The film doesn’t need the extra dazzle because the real magic is there in Sondheim’s music, which Marshall allows to come out largely unhindered (save for a few deleted repeats) in Jonathan Tunick’s wonderful original orchestrations, conducted by Paul, a long-time sondheim collaborator. gemignani.
The two also worked on Tim Burton’s 2007 film version of “Sweeney Todd” (starring Depp as the eponymous demonic barber), a more stylistically edgy and accomplished film than “Into the Woods.” however, if comparisons are to be made, then “woods” is the better sung of the two, by a generally excellent cast who catch the deceptive tonal shifts from blatant satire to pathos and back again. Decked out in long gray hair and a Grand Canyon bluff face, Streep brings a very playful smugness to The Witch (whom Bernadette Peters portrayed as more of a cloying Jewish mother in the original Broadway production). Pine is a hilariously groomed and clueless prince, much like Billy Magnussen as his equally charming and insincere princely brother (who longs for the beautiful Rapunzel). his witty duet, “Agony,” performed in the middle of a babbling stream, is one of the film’s most dynamic numbers. but as on stage, the richest part here is that of the baker’s wife, a loyal assistant who can’t help but wonder if she’s cut out for greater things, and who pays a high price for that curiosity. and blunt (once again under streep’s thumb, as in “the devil wears prada”) has just the right nurturing yet nostalgic air to make the character heartbreaking despite (or rather because of) his all-too-human flaws. .
for the screen, lapine has somewhat condensed the show’s second half, diluting the sense that the characters, having achieved their ostensible goals in the intermission, still yearn for something more. For the most part, though, the wackos of Act Two are still here: the deaths, the betrayals, and the money-spending showdown with a very angry giantess (Frances de la tour). all of which should send wise children and their parents out into the night pondering the complex nature of love and loss, taking responsibility for one’s own actions and for the good and bad things we pass on from one generation to the next. “Anything can happen in the woods,” says a lyric from Sondheim, and the same could be said for Hollywood musicals. sometimes, luckily, they manage to hit one.