by Bradley Donalson
Disney delves into the streets of Broadway and picks a bushel of talented actors as it goes Into the Woods. Now out on DVD and Blu-ray, Into the Woods assembles an all-star cast to bring Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s iconic musical to film.
Into the Woods takes its characters from well-known fairy tales such as Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel. Everyone has their own wish; a baker (James Corden, Broadway’s One Man, Two Guvnors) and his wife (Emily Blunt, The Devil Wears Prada) want to have a child, Cinderella (Anna Kendrick, Pitch Perfect) wants to go to the Prince’s Festival, and Jack (Daniel Huttlestone, Les Miserables) wants to be with his friend–and pet cow—Milky White. The ugly Witch (Meryl Streep, August: Osage County), who lives next door to the Baker and his Wife, reveals that she has cursed the couple because of the Baker’s father having stolen her magic beans, and she promises to lift the curse if they go into the woods to collect four ingredients for a magical brew: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold. Cinderella goes to visit her mother’s grave and is given a gold dress and slippers for the festival. Jack is sent to market to sell Milky White. They all must go into the woods with their hopes and dreams.
After going into the woods, the fairy tales start interacting with one another in what amounts to a comedy of errors. The Baker and his Wife meet Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford, Broadway’s Annie) and the Wolf (Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean), Jack and his cow, Cinderella (who keeps continuously running away from her prince), and Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy, Brother’s Keeper), who is being kept in her tower by the Witch and being wooed by a second Prince (Billy Magnussen, As The World Turns).
Over the course of the three nights that the Witch has given the Baker and his Wife, they must find the items, Cinderella must decide if she wants to get caught by her Prince, Rapunzel must decide if she wants her freedom, Jack must deal with the fallout of his beanstalk and killing a giant, and the Witch must continuously goad the other characters into doing her bidding. On the third night, the Witch completes her potion and becomes beautiful again, the Baker and his Wife can start a family, Jack has gotten enough money for his mother to be rich, Cinderella and Rapunzel get together with their respective princes, and life seems to move on into the happily ever-afters…for a short time.
The Baker worries about not being a good father. Cinderella begins to regret her choice to live in the castle and starts sneaking out. Jack has money, but misses his castle in the sky. And another beanstalk has grown, which allows a giantess widow with a grudge to descend in search of Jack. As she rampages the countryside, the cast must come together and figure out what to do. Torn between giving Jack to the giantess, fighting her, and fleeing the country, this little band falls apart. Tropes of heroes slaying monsters and damsels in distress being saved go flying out the window. Eventually, a core of the group comes together that defeats the giantess, and they have to deal with the fallout of the entire encounter.
With beautiful visuals, outstanding vocal performances, and just enough humor, this cast of Hollywood and Broadway power players presents a beautiful and fun version of Sondheim’s seminal musical. Changed just enough that Broadway die-hards will still find it entertaining, the film holds mostly true to its source. An interesting twist on classic fairy tales, Into the Woods makes the characters human with their own thoughts and foibles while taking you beyond the “happily ever after” that might not be so happy or long.
Into the Woods is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Disney Movies.