INTO THE WOODS is Disney’s Smash Hit Musical Film being released on Christmas Day.
“Be careful what you wish for…” warns Disney’s INTO THE WOODS. The award-winning Broadway musical is brought to life by a theatre ensemble second to none. INTO THE WOODS is a tapestry of fairy tales woven together to create one larger than life tale of tales. It’s the everyday and the outrageous blended seamlessly together in a series of songs. Writer, James Lapine, delivers a musical so smooth that it’s appropriate that the release day is on Christmas, because it is a gift. The Oscar for best screen play can be engraved before the awards ceremony starts. Stephen Sondheim, musical genius, created songs upon which you ride throughout the film, much like a magic carpet. You’ll fly high, go low, brake right and land left. The music invests you in the movie; it builds your anticipation, pulls at your heart strings, gets your hopes up (sometimes dashing them just as fast), makes you cheer for the underdog, sympathize with the villain and become part of the film. Each melody makes you feel like you are in the movie, a sidekick wandering throughout the woods, helping make wishes come true. You will check your mailbox for your paycheck. You will want to have lunch with Emily Blunt. Trust me.
Casting directors aren’t famous but Francine Maisler, CSA, Bernard Telsey, CSA and Tiffany Little Canfield, CSA should be! Their objective was to find actors who could sing, not singers who could act. They were spot on with their casting decisions. The entire cast of actors has theater backgrounds. Director, Rob Marshall says, “The story seamlessly intertwines Sondheim’s emotional, funny and brilliant score with Lapine’s intricate and masterful book, which is a modern twist on several beloved fairy tales, and is entertaining, while examining complex themes like the consequences of wishes, the parent/child relationship, greed, ambition, loss, and, perhaps most importantly, unconditional love and the power of the human spirit.”
Why Disney? Rob Marshall and his producing partner, John DeLuca felt that Disney “embraced the project the way that they did” and “They were truly interested in expanding the definition of what a ‘modern fairy tale’ film could be.” Disney is great at making things happen and they delivered. The remarkable set, the captivating makeup, the true to the “once upon a time” era costumes, the unforgettable music and the beyond talented actors brought INTO THE WOODS into the Oscar playoffs.
INTO THE WOODS is the combination of classic fairy tales; Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and Little Red Riding Hood which all serve as the backdrop of the odyssey of the Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt). There’s a spell that must be broken to obtain a wish, which sets the quest in motion. The Baker and his Wife need something from each of the fairy tale characters, except it’s not that easy, as each of those characters each have their own wishes. The journey, of course, is filled with obstacles. Storyline upon storyline, quickly they build and weave together into an unforgettable tapestry of life. The Baker and his Wife secure the ingredients they need to break the curse through theft, bribery and deceit. The second act packs quite a punch. After the wishes come true, reality strikes back with a vengeance (and a Giant). The message is clear- what you wish for doesn’t always turn out exactly how you anticipated… which brings us right back to the beginning, “be careful what you wish for.”
What makes INTO THE WOODS so special? Aside from the phenomenal musical score, its relatable characters are the backbone of the film. You know the Baker and his Wife. You’ve been where Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) finds herself, living the fairy tale but it’s simply, as she puts it “not what I thought.” Any parent has felt the agony of the witch as Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy) wants to leave the tower and the despair when Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) realizes that not everyone can be trusted. Everyone has felt the pain of Jack’s mother (Tracey Ullman), as she is forced to make a difficult decision regarding her son (Daniel Huttlestone). These characters, they’re human. They are greedy, tenacious, determined, vulnerable, charming, naïve, exasperated, foolish, wise, enthusiastic, selfish and funny. They change their minds. They fall apart and come together in unexpected ways.
The physical transformation of Meryl Streep into the hideous captivating witch is complete with kooky mannerisms, dreadful looks and ghoulish, disgustingly dirty fingernails. Nothing is amiss about her character, although by appearance, it would seem as though everything is. She’s so visibly unappealing that your nose will wrinkle because you can almost fathom the stench that must come off of her. You don’t want to look at her, yet you can’t keep your eyes off of her. That, my friends, is the power of Meryl Streep.
The highlight of Meryl Streep’s performance was her rendition of “Stay with Me.” It was sung with every mother’s heart hanging from a string. It was a hauntingly beautiful song sung by an ugly, crazed witch. It was a wondrous thing to hear and see. Streep, herself, explained that keeping her composure during the song was difficult. Her bloodshot, tear soaked eyes betray her emotions yet her voice is steady, strong, stunning and amazing. She sings the consummate lullaby, while grieving the most profound loss she knows is coming her way.
The most hilarious, unexpected duet, “Agony,” is sung by Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen. The beauty of both their voices and their human exteriors was topped only by the hilarious nature of their song. You will find yourself laughing out loud. I did. The entire theater did. It’s a duet you will never forget!
Comic relief is peppered throughout the film. Cinderella’s Stepmother (Christine Baranski) and her stepsisters, Florinda (Tammy Blanchard) and Lucinda (Lucy Punch) are the New Jersey Housewives of their time. The gossip, the jewelry, the hair and the clothes are all just another place, another time. This hilarious social-climbing trio stops at nothing to get to the top. The only disappointment was related to Johnny Depp, as the Wolf. Johnny’s performance was flawless; his howl was perfection, his brilliant performance shined in comparison to his costume. The costume was dreadfully out of place in this film. It was not what one would expect and simply put, it was unbefitting of INTO THE WOODS. There was so much potential there. I believe it’s the only aspect of the film where the audience was left wanting more.
Perhaps, the most important song in Disney’s INTO THE WOODS is the one that sums it all up, “No One Is Alone.” Composer Stephen Sondheim explains, “This is what the show has been about. No one is alone: we are all connected in some way and we are all responsible for each other’s actions. It’s something I believe firmly and it’s something that’s worth writing about.” INTO THE WOODS is a modern day fairy tale- the wishing, the yearning, the getting and the one aspect that sets it apart, the despair unearthed when the reality isn’t quite what you expected after all. “Happily ever afters” don’t usually end this way. The story of Cinderella has been told for over 500 years. In it, Cinderella’s shoe has always fallen off as she ran from the ball. Never has she intentionally left her shoe to see if the prince truly loves her, until now. INTO THE WOODS breaks the stereotypes. We have a Cinderella who is intelligent and brave, she gets her happily ever after and does the unexpected with it. That can be said of all of the characters’ storylines. Wishes can and do come true in the woods but they all come at price for the first time in history. INTO THE WOODS opens on Christmas Day 12/25/2014, be there to share in this musical adventure!