“Once upon a time,” the story teller says, “there lay a small village by the edge of the woods.” Every character in this smart, musical mashup of Brothers Grimm fairy tales will, sooner or later, venture into the woods: Jack (Daniel Huddlestone), to sell his cow; Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), to take sweet rolls to Granny; Baker and wife (James Cordon, Emily Blunt), to lift the witch’s (Meryl Streep) curse. All will learn something about themselves but, as the Prince (Chris Pine) says, “The woods can be a dangerous place.”
Will Baker and wife find the objects needed to reverse the witch’s curse? Can Jack please his mom (Tracey Ullman) and sell Milky White, his beloved cow? Does Red Riding Hood find Granny or the Wolf (Johnny Depp)? See “Into the Woods” for sung answers to these, and other, questions.
From Johnny Depp’s cameo as the Wolf (“Hello, Little Girl”) to Meryl Streep’s show-stopping performance as the Witch, everyone acts, everyone sings, and everyone learns a new thing about life in “Into the Woods.” Anna Kendrick (Cinderella) discovers her indecisiveness; James Cordon and Emily Blunt (Baker and wife) learn to depend on each other; Lilla Crawford and Daniel Huddlestone (Red Riding Hood and Jack – of the beanstalk tale) learn about life – she, from the Wolf; he, from Mr. and Mrs. Giant in their castle in the sky. And the two clumsy but handsome Princes – Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen – learn about themselves. “I was raised to be charming,” says Pine, “not sincere.”
Others in the talented cast include Tracey Ullman as Jack’s exasperated mother (“Will you never learn?” she says). Mackensie Mauzy plays long-haired Rapunzel, locked in her tower. Christine Baranski, Tammy Blanchard and Lucy Punch are Cinderella’s stepmother and ugly sisters.
“Into the Woods” is a smart and clever adult musical entertainment, a montage of familiar fairy tales with more than a little post-modern twist. Based on Stephen Sondheim’s musical play, it’s directed by Rob Marshall, scripted by James Lapine, words and music by Sondheim. A pell-mell, energetic and visually stunning enterprise, “ITW” never lets up, its multiple storylines and characters intersect and spin off in unexpected directions. It’s operatic (light, not grand) and Shakespearian – comic characters lost in the Forest of Arden.
Rated PG for adult themes, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material, it runs 124 minutes. A Disney production but not for the usual youthful Disney crowd. Adult fare.
“Into the Woods” is smart,
Pay attention from the start –
Clever lyrics, clever plot,
Visual pleasures are non-stop.