Into the Woods

Directed By: Rob Marshall

Starring: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, and Johnny Depp

Merry Christmas STMR readers!  As happy as I am that the holidays have arrived, I'm pretty disappointed by the offering at the box office this week.  For the most part, it's gloom and doom.  Just look at this week's releases.  We've got a self-hating blackjack addict throwing away tons of money in The Gambler.  We've got an Olympic gold medalist and World War II POW enduring hell in Unbroken.  We've got MLK fighting for basic civil rights against overwhelming odds in Selma.  It's not a particularly happy slate of movies.  My one hope for a flick that fills that sugary Christmas void this holiday season is Rob Marshall's Into the Woods, an adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name.

A Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt) learn that their family has been cursed by the Witch (Meryl Streep) next door.  When the Baker's father stole magic beans for his pregnant wife, he took something far more precious from the Witch, something that claimed her youth and beauty.  For that, the Baker's family line is barren, and he's unable to have children with his wife.  With a blue moon arriving soon, which only happens once every hundred years, the Witch sees a magical opportunity to let go of the past.  To do so, she's going to need several ingredients from the Baker and his Wife.  These include a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold.

At his mother's (Tracey Ullman) instruction, Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) goes to sell a cow as white as milk for no less than five pounds.  To get the price they want, they're going to hide the fact that this aging cow can no longer be milked.  With this in mind, Jack makes his way into the woods to go to another town where the cow is unknown to make the sale.  After visiting the Baker's store, Little Red Riding Hood (Lilia Crawford) makes her way into the woods to take some treats to her ailing grandmother (Annette Crosbie) while sporting the cape as red as blood gifted to her.  Before she gets there, a slippery character known as The Wolf (Johnny Depp) introduces himself to her.

Elsewhere, Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) is locked away in a tower by the Witch.  With her beautiful singing voice and her long hair as yellow as corn, however, she soon attracts the attention of a single Prince (Billy Magnussen).  Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) wants to go to the royal festival at which another Prince (Chris Pine) is looking to find a bride.  There's just one problem, the staunch opposition of her Stepmother (Christine Baranski) and Stepsisters (Tammy Blanchard and Lucy Punch).  Wearing slippers as pure as gold, the beautiful stepdaughter finds a way to the festival and then suddenly bails into the woods.  To get the items held by all of their fellow townspeople, the Baker and his Wife must make their way into the woods.  The clock is ticking until the blue moon disappears for another hundred years, and the Witch is watching.

The Christmas season is ripe for good musicals.  Ignoring last week's Annie, we've seen some pretty solid entries over the years.  Really starting with Rob Marshall's Chicago some 12 years ago and including the likes of Dreamgirls and Les Miserablés, things have come back full circle to Marshall himself with this week's Into the Woods.  The festive family musical is another solid entry into the genre.  Boasting an intriguing blend of fairy tales, some delightfully melodic tunes, and an elite ensemble, this adaptation doesn't miss a beat.  Into the Woods is the kind of movie we need on Christmas.

With adaptations of musicals to the big screen, it's always a tough act to stay true to the source material and make the production something befitting the big screen.  The movie has to feel like a musical movie, not a stage production on camera.  With the fantastical element of a film like Into the Woods, there are plenty of ways to create this feeling.  You can see it in the impressive visual effects.  You can hear it in the tunes that have seemingly been cleaned up at the studio.  You can feel it as Marshall sets the tone with one grand gesture after another that feels just a little bit more epic on the big screen than it otherwise would on a stage.  Still, there is one element more reminiscent of a Broadway production that sticks, campiness.  For the most part, this is fine because it often results in comic relief.

The performances in Into the Woods are quite impressive, but I must start with the most elite member of this ensemble cast.  Though she has more of a supporting role, the legendary Meryl Streep has top billing for her Golden Globe-nominated performance as the Witch.  It is indeed for good reason.  The veteran actress has a commanding presence on screen and is the center of attention whenever she's on camera.  Early in the film, you can see it as Streep channels a bit of Margaret Hamilton (The Wizard of Oz) in a delicious, over-the-top performance.  By the end of it all, she offers a more redemptive character that puts me in the mindset of Alfaba in Wicked.  She even gets a chance to showcase her vocal talents in tunes like "Stay With Me" and "Last Midnight", two of the musical's best selections.  All in all, Streep delivers one hell of a performance (as usual).

James Corden and Emily Blunt share some great chemistry on screen as the Baker and his Wife.  For his part as the Baker, Corden is a bit underutilized in the vocal department.  However, he delivers an intriguing, haunted performance as this man scarred by the misdeeds of his parents to this day.  For her part as the Baker's Wife, Blunt brings a maternal warmth to the screen that translates into a performance that is equal parts gutsy, heartwarming, and amusing.  The pitch is back as Cinderella (I love the Pitch Perfect sequel's play on the tagline of Alien 3 by the way).  Anna Kendrick once again steps into the musical arena to deliver a rather comical performance as this hopeless romantic who somehow garners empathy as she bails on the prince time and time again at the festival.  It’s needless to say that she delivers a few solid musical selection as well.  Lastly, I have to mention Chris Pine's hilarious performance as the Prince.  He clearly has mastered the art of being charming without being simultaneously sincere.

Into the Woods is a fitting adaptation of the beloved Broadway musical.  It's the lone light in an otherwise dark Christmas season at the box office.  I thoroughly enjoyed this blend of classic fairy tales we all know and love.  We need more musicals at the box office like this ladies and gents.  Into the Woods gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.