INTO THE WOODS – A Review by John Strange

By: John ’Doc’ Strange
Directed by: Rob Marshall
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp, Chris Pine, Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski, Tracey Ullman
MPAA Rating: PG (for thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material)
Selig Rating: FULL PRICE
Runtime: 124 Min.
Into the Woods is a totally different vision of the fairy tales Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel; told as if they happened simultaneously and inter-related.  Set to music, the stars sing their way through the stories as they are interwoven into an epic story for the ages.  Central to this combined story is the tale of the Baker and his Wife whose actions touch each of the other central characters one by one.
We see the stories in a different light.  These are not the stories made famous by Disney’s animated classics.  The Stepmother (Christine Baranski) and stepsisters of Cinderella (Tammy Blanchard as Florinda and Lucy Punch as Lucinda) are still evil and cruel.  Jack’s mother (Tracey Ullman) is still desperate to keep the farm going and the two of them together.  Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) is still in a tower awaiting her prince and the hair she drops from the tower is still blonde and long (and obviously very strong). 
The central plotline in this story belongs to the Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt) who must placate a witch (Meryl Streep).  They discover the reason they are childless is due to a curse placed upon the family by said witch.  She cursed the family when she saw the baker’s father pilfering her vegetable garden for food to feed his family (and stealing magic beans, too).  The witch tells the young couple that she is willing to remove the curse and allow them to have a child.  It must be done during the blue moon due in three days.  First they must find and bring to her five items, each related to the major storylines of our film.
Their task brings them into contact with the other members of the community.  Beans are traded for a cow.  Beans that magically grow into a huge beanstalk that let Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) rob a giant (Frances de la Tour) who dies trying to stop him.  Slippers are lost as Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) runs from Prince Charming (Chris Pine).  Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) meets the Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Depp) on her way to see her Granny (Annette Crosbie) deep in the woods.  Red gets a new wolf skin cloak when she sells her red one to the couple.  Rapunzel learns new facts about her parents and finds a great reason to get a haircut.
The baker and his wife eventually get what they need, though the world is devolving into chaos with the giant’s widow wrecking the land in search of her husband’s killer (Jack).  We see Cinderella realize what type of man she fell in love with, the truth about Prince Charming (is he really that charming?).  We see the witch reverse the curse on the Baker and his family which, wow, removes a curse on her!  Is this the real reason why she did it?  We see the Baker’s wife have child in nothing flat. 
These fairy tales travel to endings that don’t match the ones we grew up with but all the same arrive at conclusions that feel true.  The talent selections for this film are some of the best I have seen in quite some time.  Tracey Ullman is excellent choice as Jack’s mother.  Johnny Depp is perfect as the Wolf.  Anna Kendrick and Emily Blount give us amazing performances as Cinderella and the Baker’s Wife.  But my favorite performance is by Meryl Streep.  Her portrayal of the Witch is Oscar-worthy.  I loved this film.
The Selig Rating Scale:
FULL PRICE – Excellent movie, well worth the price
MATINEE – Good movie
DOLLAR – OK movie
CABLE – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
FREEBIE – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn't paid for it.
COMMERCIAL TV – Commercials and cutting to the allotted time will not hurt this one.
FORGET IT! – Bad. If you see this one, do yourself a favor and keep it to yourself.
GET YOUR TORCHES – BAD! – Burn the script, the writer, the director and maybe even the actors!
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