Why the Grimm Inspired Into the Woods is Disney’s Golden Egg
“Be careful what you wish for,” because it just might be AMAZING.
Disney’s “Into the Woods” is uniquely charming, dark, well-paced, nuanced and swimmingly performed by the equally spectacular all-star cast. Meryl Streep as the Witch does what Meryl Streep does best and enchants the audience with her mesmerizing vocals and appropriately animated mannerisms. Emily Blunt as the Baker’s wife steals the show with her vocal vibrations and constant comedic tribulations. But, did you know that this soon to be timeless classic almost never made it to the big screen?
Starting from the early 90’s, many names have been attached to the long-anticipated adaptation of the Grimm’s fairy tale inspired musical. A few of those names to note are Robin Williams as the Baker, Cher as the Witch, Steve Martain as the Wolf, and Danny Devito as the Giant. Which, don’t get me wrong, sounds like it would be equally amazing. In 1991, Columbia Pitctures and Jim Henson Productions were also developing a film adaptation. By 1997, Henson was out and Columbia claimed to be pursuing Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, and Susan Sarandon as potential cast members. Alas, all efforts aside, the project remained inactive for a decade and a half until Disney hired Rob Marshall in 2012 to direct the project.
One thing that has been evident from its inception is that this film was designed to support an all-star cast. Think about it. The various characters each have their own independent stories which ultimately intertwine making it ideal, and almost a necessity, to have powerful players in those key roles. So, does this mean that Disney had the right so-called ‘Magic’ to successfully pull off the adapted production while others had tried and failed?
This is yet another adaptation success from Disney coming off the recent praise-worthy translation of cult Marvel property, “Big Hero 6.” Rob Marshall does this Musical adaptation justice, as his directorial vision encapsulates the energy of the Broadway show and adeptly translates it to a product suitable for a PG audience. If you are expecting your typical Disney fairy tale then prepare yourselves for something different. This is no “Once Upon a Time.”
Disney’s “Into the Woods” brings as much comedic quality as it does surprisingly dark over-tones. In my review of “Big Hero 6” I mention a decision made by the studio to bring a heavier tone to the film by having the characters deal with ‘loss’ in various ways, a theme less prominent in the comic series. Conversely, Disney tames some of the dark and sexual themes prevalent in the Broadway show, yet is able to subtly maintain the overall flavor, keeping a balance of humor and tragedy.
Although James Corden as the Baker found himself absorbing a good portion of the spotlight, I think the real credit goes to the Baker’s Wife (Blunt), who in my opinion absolutely stole the show. Although it was appropriately PG, the chemistry between Corden and Blunt was playful yet believable. As a rabid Depp-enthusiast, it was to my dismay that Johnny Depp’s Big Bad Wolf was but only a brief player who did not survive the first act, but his presence although brief was definitely impactful and left the audience in stitches. His borderline inappropriate Big Bad Wolf was the first real glimpse of the darker adult theme that was subtly hinted at throughout the film. Be it the Big Bad Wolf’s taste for flesh or the infidelities of the Baker’s wife, this was far from a traditional PG one would expect Disney and I love it.
Recognition needs to be given where it is due and Chris Pine’s Prince Charming is most certainly due credit. His “Agony” ballad was blissfully campy yet solidly spot-on. This is really where we see the Young Captain Kirk channel his inner Shatner. Pine’s prince has the most memorable quotable moment in the film with his comedically appropriate candor.
“I was raised to be charming, not sincere.” – Prince Charming
“Will someone think of the children!?” Okay, let’s discuss the fledgling players that were so pleasantly sewn into the all-star ensemble cast. Lilla Crawford’s Red Riding Hood was youthfully innocent with an adult twist. Vocally Crawford was able to hold her own amongst her musically experienced cast-mates. Daniel Huttlestone’s Jack was a truly a giant part of the film’s success. Not only was he in-tune, but he brought to the screen a youthful naivety with a comedic twist.
This film was fifty percent musical and fifty percent social comedy. Who better to push the comedic themes than Christine Baranski, Lucy Punch, and Tammy Blanchard as Cinderella’s Stepmother, Lucinda, and Florinda. Their snooty and pompous attitudes subtly fan the flame of funny as their overt absurdity spills out of their primp and proper garb. Although integral to the overall plot, Rapunzel and her Prince, aside from the Princes’ ‘agonizing’ duet, were bland and two dimensional. I had similar sentiments towards Tracey Ullman as Jack’s Mother. I think that she is a terrific character actor, as she is well-known to be, but amidst such robust talent, she fell towards the back of the pack.
I would imagine that a vast majority of the credit for a successful translation would be due to James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s direct creative involvement. I am appreciative of the fact that Disney was able to recognize that, who better to adapt this musical to film that the duo credited with conceptually conceiving it in the first place.
Aside from a brief lull in the third act, which is part of the original Broadway musical, I was either laughing or impressed continually throughout my experience. I was especially impressed by the surprisingly powerful vocal talents of the cast. In an interview with Good Morning America, Emily Blunt admits she went through a fair amount of vocal training. I’d say it worked, between Blunt, Kendrick and Streep, I don’t know which one I want to become the next global Pop star. Realistically none of them, as it would cheapen their craft, but could you imagine Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt and Anna Kendrick in a 3-piece rock band? I can, and it would be awesome.
Scenically speaking, this is a profoundly detailed setting and coupled with the meticulously crafted costumes, “Into the Woods” is a down right visual stunner. The set and cinematography successfully translates the wildly imaginative and enthralling fairy tale setting to the big screen.
I alluded to it before and I will say it directly this time, I think that “Into the Woods” will be yet another addition to the catalogue of timeless Disney classics. I have already made plans to see the film again on Christmas Day, thus I would be confident in saying that this movie offers plenty for those pursuing continued veiwing pleasure.
Disney knocks it out of the park with something dark, funny and new. Meryl Streep's Witch enchants while Emily Blunt as the Baker's Wife steals the show. Add an all-star cast, Billboard caliber songs, and a visionary director and you get one of the years' best films, "Into the Woods." This is a must watch for audiences of all ages.