Published Dec 23, 2014Arriving in theatres just in time for the holidays, Disney's adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's stage musical Into The Woods is like a good Christmas ham for families eager to avoid talking to each other for a couple hours. Assembling an all-star cast led by Meryl Streep, director Rob Marshall brings the story to the screen with a healthy dose of humour, a fair amount of heart and, naturally, a wide array of extravagant musical numbers. It all goes down rather easily, as if it has been subtly glazed for your enjoyment, though it likely won't leave you humming any of the tunes and lumbers around during its prolonged finale like the giant that happens to be terrorizing its ensemble cast.
While cobbling together various pieces of popular fairy tales, the film hinges on a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) as they attempt to reverse a curse placed on their household by a nasty witch (Streep) so they can fulfill their dreams of having a child. When the duo ventures into the titular woods to track down the items required by the witch, they find their quest intersecting with some familiar characters who happen to possess the precise objects that the couple need.
There's the red riding cape worn by a little girl (Lilla Crawford) who's being preyed upon by an unsavoury wolf (Johnny Depp, becoming more and more of a parody of himself) as she travels to her grandmother's house. Then there's the golden slipper of the harried Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), who spends her nights dancing with Prince Charming (Chris Pine) at the local festival. They also require the long blonde hair of Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), the daughter of the witch who lives at the top of a tall tower, and a white cow that a young boy named Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) trades for some magic beans rather than the money his mother (Tracey Ullman) desperately needs to put food on their table.
The casting proves to be inspired on nearly all fronts, with delightful contributions coming from both experienced actors who clearly relish plum roles like these and relative newcomers who manage to make an impression with less screen time. For instance, Streep has the kind of awe-inducing chops that allow her to play practically any part, but rarely has she seemed to be having as much fun as she does when showcasing her impressive vocal range here. Elsewhere, Pine's hilariously pompous Prince Charming manages to steal most of his scenes and has a big show-stopping number while Lucy Punch gets quite a bit of comedic mileage out of her few appearances as one of Cinderella's awful stepsisters.
Fans of Sondheim will likely not be disappointed, though the way characters explain the plot and express their thoughts through staccato rhythms that are largely devoid of memorable melodies are reminiscent of the way Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street left you convinced at times that some of the tunes might have even been invented on the spot. A late plot twist puts a creative, if not entirely original, spin on the unrealistic tidiness of fairy tales, but the way it sends of all of the characters scrambling away from a giant in its latter half makes you wonder if it wasn't an element that was better suited to the stage.