For those not familiar with the stage show Into the Woods, by Stephen Sondheim, Disney’s adaptation is an oft sarcastic retelling of a play involving the major cannon of fairy tales and how they interact to save the day and each other. With bright colors, elaborate songs and characters behaving just to the side of our expectations, Into the Woods is filled with adult humor under the guise of stories for children. Written by Stephen Sondheim (music) and James Lapine (screenplay), the film does capture the delight of the stage play and give it the extra oomph of a movie and costuming budget.
Most surprising were the vocal talents of both Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep. Both actresses managed to pull of the difficult ranges with ease. While she is no Bernadette Peters, Streep still holds her own and her rendition of Children Should Listen was actually a bit heartbreaking. Anna Kendrick’s vocals have been tested in films such as Pitch Perfect, so I had a good feeling her
Cinderella vocals would be a beautiful addition to the film. I was not disappointed. Tracy Ulman was also a surprise delight, using her comedic facial expressions to portray Jack’s mother as a frustrated single woman raising an overly imaginative child. Christine Baranski excels with wickedness (as she always does) as Cinderella’s stepmother, thought one of the step sisters looked like a stunt double for Lady Gaga.
Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen’s duet to the song Agony was perhaps the highlight of the film. Known as an already overdramatic song about love, watching Pine and Magnussen rip open their shirts, and climbing up water falls is laugh out loud comedy. Magnussen’s leather pants do not seem to hold him back from a wide stance or scaling a tower wall to reach Rapunzel.
James Corden and Emily Blunt’s chemistry is believable as the Baker and his wife. You truly believe and embrace their frustration as a childless couple in the beginning, and then as a frustrated couple with a newborn later in the film. Corden has already proven his ability to do well as a clueless father with his portrayal as bumbling Craig
in Doctor Who, and continues to shine in the role of a father questioning his ability to be a father.
Johnny Depp was just plain creepy and over the top. The role of the wolf in Into the Woods is traditionally somewhat pedophilic, but Depp’s portrayal comes across as downright rapey. Dressed in a glorified zoot suit, Depp’s low vocals portray a predator through and through. They also seem to cross the line between wolf looking at a meal and grown man looking at a small child from his van sitting across from an elementary school parking lot. As a 30 year-old woman, I was uncomfortable and wanted to cover my eyes.
Though Lilla Crawford did not portray the main character in the horror film Orphan, her Little Red Riding Hood looks just like the murderous child/woman in the film. Her braided dark hair and blue pinafore are a dead ringer and it becomes hard to look at her without expecting murderous creature. This image only gets worse when she wears a cape made from wolf hide and begins carrying a knife. Though we never truly see the female giant’s face, Frances de la Tour (Madame Maxime for the Harry Potter crowd) puts her height to good use and is actually somewhat terrifying as a Lady Giant.
The costuming in this film shines as only Disney can. The Witch’s gown after her transformation is a gorgeous concoction of blue ribbons and large stretches of fabric. Streep shines with her well coifed blue hair and nails, a far cry from the start of the film
where she appears to be an old beggar woman with an addiction to Manic Panic hair dye. Cinderella’s gorgeous ballgown almost distracted me from the fact that the film cut my favorite Cinderella song and went directly to her transformation at her mother’s grave. The corset is tight, the heels perfect gold. Her later wedding dress will likely appear in Disney’s Wedding gown collection in future days as it is the type of gorgeous that will have women with love of the fairy-tale styles clamoring for. If not, Disney get on that.
Absent in the film are both Snow White and a couple small segments of songs. For those who have not listened to the original recordings ad nauseum (like a few of us here), these will quickly be forgotten in the swirls of fantastic costumes and brilliant play between the characters. Also missing is an intermission, so parents of small children and viewers with short attention spans might want to wait for the Bluray release. Into the Woods, like the Prince, is incredibly charming and will delight Christmas Day audiences.
Disney’s Into the Woods is in theaters Christmas Day.