Into the Woods reworks several familiar Brothers Grimm fairy tales. This musical’s seemingly innocent surface overlies the exorcism of the composer’s personal demons that stemmed from a troubled childhood. The Disney studios have adapted this musical for the silver screen with a new cast and some changes to the original show.
There are five stories that intersect in the woods: The Baker (James Corden) and his barren wife (Emily Blunt); Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), her Grandmother (Annette Crosbie) and the Wolf (Johnny Depp); the Witch (Meryl Streep) and her “daughter” Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) and Rapunzel’s royal suitor, the Prince (Billy Magnussen); Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), her wicked Stepmother (Christine Baranski) and Stepsisters Lucinda (Lucy Punch) and Florinda (Tammy Blanchard) and Prince Charming (Chris Pine); Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), his Mother (Tracey Ullman), and the magic beanstalk.
The first half of the musical concludes with happy endings for all: the Baker and his Wife get their child, Cinderella gets her Prince, Red Riding Hood and Grandmother get rescued from the Wolf, Rapunzel gets freedom and her Prince, the Witch gets her beauty restored, and Jack’s beanstalk gets him riches from the Giants.
The “happy endings” are transient, as the Giant’s Wife (Frances de la Tour) wreaks havoc on the village to avenge her husband’s death by falling from the beanstalk that Jack chopped down. Some of the characters also meet unfortunate ends, Cinderella discovers that love is illusory, and the Witch’s regained beauty has some major downsides. The moralistic finale finds a sadder but wiser Baker relating their story to his infant son with ”Once upon a time.”
About thirty minutes are trimmed from the show’s original running time, mostly from the omission of several musical numbers such as “I Guess This is Goodbye,” “Ever After,” and “No More.” Sexual situations (the Prince and the Baker’s Wife’s affair), and overt violence (the death of Jack’s mother) are considerably toned down.
Critical response to Into the Woods was generally favorable and this film received three 2015 Academy Award nominations, but took home no Oscars.
Into the Woods got state-of-the-art filming with Arri Alexa XT, Panavision Primo Series, and Angenieux Optimo lenses with processing by ARRIRAW (2.8K source format), Digital Intermediate (2K master format), and Panavision (anamorphic source format). These cinematic technologies deliver eye-popping visuals with superb contrasts and color palettes, particularly in the dark forest scenes.
The lossless surround soundtrack does a superb job with dialogue and vocals. The footfalls of the Giant’s Wife generate thunderous bass attacks that immerse and startle the listener. Sondheim’s brilliant score receives a full-bodied, simply stunning recording.
A number of bonus features are included, but there is redundancy in the behind-the-scenes interviews:
- Never-Before-Seen Sondheim Original: “She’ll Be Back”: (4:48) (English Dolby Digital Stereo 48kHz/16-bit) Meryl Streep performs a new song written for this film that is introduced by director Rob Marshall but was included not in the original theatrical version.
- There’s Something About The Woods: (13:23) (English Dolby Digital Stereo 48kHz/16-bit). The cast, director, production members, and composer describe the film’s creative process.
- The Cast As Good As Gold: (10:10) (English Dolby Digital Stereo 48kHz/16-bit). The cast shares their experiences during the making of this film.
- Deeper Into The Woods: Four background featurettes:
- From Stage to Screen (8:33) (English Dolby Digital Stereo 48kHz/16-bit). A brief discussion of the creative process behind this film adaptation.
- The Magic of the Woods (7:24) (English Dolby Digital Stereo 48kHz/16-bit): The actors weigh in on the realization of their roles.
- Designing the Woods (7:07) (English Dolby Digital Stereo 48kHz/16-bit). The cast and production crew discuss the meaning of the Woods and how it affects the characters.
- The Costumes of the Woods (6:53) (English Dolby Digital Stereo 48kHz/16-bit). A brief look at costumier Colleen Atwood’s work for this film.
- Filmmaker Commentary
- Music & Lyrics: a sing-a-long app.
The Definitive Word
Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine collaborated on three other musicals, but Into the Woods is unquestionably their best effort. This is not a feel-good Disney story, but rather one that bares the emotional and physical darkness of the woods. The vocal performances by most of the principals, far better known for their acting than their singing abilities, are surprisingly good. Not surprising is how the multi-talented Anna Kendrick simply nails Cinderella. All considered, Into the Woods succeeds as a filmed adaptation of a staged musical but is definitely more intended for adults than for children.