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Into the Woods (A PopEntertainment.com Movie Review)

Into the Woods

Into the Woods

INTO THE WOODS (2014)

Starring Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Lilla Crawford, Daniel Huttlestone, Mackenzie Mauzy, Chris Pine, Billy Magnussen, Christine Baranski, Lucy Punch, Johnny Depp, Tracey Ullman, Tammy Blanchard, Mackenzie Mauzy, Simon Russell Beale, Annette Crosbie, Richard Glover and Frances de la Tour.

Screenplay by James Lapine.

Directed by Rob Marshall.

Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.  124 minutes.  Rated PG.

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.

Of course, then again, maybe I’m grading on a curve because Into the Woods comes hot on the heels of the gawdawful adaptation of another classic Broadway musical, 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.

Though officially 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 26, 2014.

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