With shared cinematic universes being all the rage, Disney must have been delighted to realise that Stephen Sondheim had done the work for them in his Tony award winning 1986 musical “Into The Woods”. Long destined for the big screen, after multiple production attempts, it’s fitting that Disney are the ones to finally bring it to the cinema.
Celebrated as a classic in America but lesser known this side of the Atlantic, “Into The Woods” tells the story of a Baker and his Wife who long for a child only to discover that their infertility is the result of a curse placed by the witch who lives next door. The witch gives them a chance to lift the curse: bring her four ingredients for a special potion by midnight when the blue moon will occur. The Baker sets off into the woods to fulfil the quest. The search for the ingredients brings the baker and his wife into contact with Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack (of The Beanstalk) fame as the stories blend, coincide and change each other.
With the source material noted for being mature and dark, there were initial fears that the production would become too Disney-fied but given Sondheim himself approved any changes, you can rest assured a great deal of the original has made the transition. Arguably, all the subtext and multi-layered meaning is still there, it’s just a little more into the shadows than it previously was.
While the production remains respectful of but not beholden to the source material, you can also sense the cast’s affection for it, with Streep breaking her self-imposed ‘no witches’ rule to bring Sondheim’s work to the screen. She flits and flurries around the screen bringing a real air of mystery and drama to the likeable ensemble. Chris Pine, as Prince Charming, manages here to give a far more Shatnerian performance than he’s ever managed in either of his “Star Trek” films. Corden and Blunt are charming as the Baker and his wife and Anna Kendrick makes a great millennial Cinderella. Johnny Depp’s brief cameo as the Big Bad Wolf works less well but doesn’t have a major impact on the movie overall.
A luxurious high class pantomime for the musical or fairy-tale connoisseur, with an almost Shakespearian guile, this is fine entertainment for the whole family. Although younger children (and some adults) may get fidgety when the story continues way past the happily ever after point we’re all used to, everyone will enjoy the wonderful music, sharp and clever lyrics and the atmospheric and spectacular production.