By Ryan McLaughlin
“The cow as white as milk. The cape as red as blood. The hair as yellow as corn. The slipper as pure as gold.” These are the central items that bring all of the characters together in “Into the Woods” (Dec. 2014), a musical that has been adapted by Disney from the book by James Lapine and directed by Rob Marshall with screenplay by Stephen Sondheim.
The main characters include the baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt). The baker’s father (Simon Russell Beale) stole magical beans from a witch (Meryl Streep) years ago, and then his family incurred her wrath. The witch cursed the baker and his family, making them unable to have children. In order to reverse the curse, the witch tells the baker to gather the specifically identified items: a cow, a cape, a strand of hair, and a slipper before three midnights pass.
The items are in the possession of other characters, who, quite noticeably, come straight out of fairy tales. Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) must take his cow, Milky White, into the market because she is unable to produce milk. Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) goes to visit her grandmother, (Annette Crosbie) who lives through the woods, with her infamous blood red cape. Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) is locked away in a tower by her mother, the witch, and must use her long, yellow hair to lift people in and out of the tower. Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) wants nothing more than to go to the ball, but her wretched step-mother (Christine Baranski) and step-sisters won’t allow her.
These characters constantly cross paths, as the baker and his wife scour the woods to find the items before the witch’s deadline. Along the way, the characters frequently burst into song, one of which entitled “Agony” is performed by Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen.
“Into the Woods” has remained true to its roots from the stage to the theater. Only a few story elements have been changed, but otherwise the dark themes and comedy are still present. Meryl Streep portrays a menacing witch, who becomes a more complex character than her part implies.
Part of what made “Into the Woods” so enjoyable was the conviction each cast member put into their roles. Streep had a lot of emotion with each song, even cracking her voice with some of her emotional pieces, such as “Stay with Me.” Some may criticize her voice during the song, but I felt that it added that extra emotional weight.
I felt that she had good intentions and wanted to repent for her past infractions. She wanted to have the curse lifted on herself and the Baker’s family. She and everyone become happy by the end of the first act, but that happiness is ruined in the second act. This leads to her other emotional song, “The Last Midnight,” where she sings about how she wants to sacrifice one life to save all of the other’s. The curse has been reversed, but now everyone is in danger. The rest of the characters just want to place the blame, but she wants to end the danger and go back to her life. All of these emotions are piled up into one song, and I believe that Streep pulled it off.
“Into the Woods” is an interesting experiment for Disney. The transition from stage to screen is not as well executed as Sondheim produced in “Sweeney Todd” (2007). However, “Into the Woods” had a more complex story to tell. “Into the Woods” has more characters and storylines than the “Sweeney Todd” story does. These storylines get more complicated, and it was difficult to translate all of the stories to a film format. Additionally, “Into the Woods” has conflicting moods and themes, going from comedy to tragedy multiple times and vice versa. Movie audiences are not always as receptive to these changes, especially in such a small time frame.
I highly recommend “Into the Woods” if you like musicals, twisted fairy tales, and complex stories. The songs truly help set the stage and describe the events occurring, and each one is fantastic. The production values are high, and they helped make “Into the Woods” one of my favorite films I have seen in 2015.