Into The Woods Captivating, Creepy Trip Into The Weeds

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The concept of getting various fairy tale characters to interact with each other in a shared universe is always an intriguing concept (if, not necessarily, a new one, as easily attested to by ONCE UPON A TIME and, even before that, with Bill Willingham's series, FABLES). In this Disney musical, the audience enjoys an interweaving of Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Rapunzel, orbiting around an entirely new tale of the Baker and his wife who are out to lift a curse put on their family by a witch.

Based on the musical by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim, INTO THE WOODS delivers a number of catchy rhythms, overpowered by some particularly creepy moments. Meryl Streep portrays The Witch, who put a curse on the Baker's father for having stolen vegetables -- including some magic beans -- from her garden. The Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt, EDGE OF TOMORROW) are told they can lift this curse if the go into the woods and, over the next three days, retrieve four items -- items which happen to inject themselves into other stories concurrently happening.

Soon, the Baker's wife is trying to cajole Cinderella (Anna Kendrick, PITCH PERFECT) out of her shoes, while the Baker begrudgingly takes advantage of young Jack by hornswoggling him out of his cow for five beans. And thus the misadventures get underway.

The story of Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) is an overtly creepy one, starting with the song performed by The Wolf (Johnny Depp), "Hello Little Girl." Later, when Red recounts the tale, there's seemingly more to the story than what we saw on screen, and she came away knowing a little more than she did before. This same sentiment is echoed by Jack (Daniel Huttlestone, LES MISERABLES) when he returns from climbing the beanstalk, to talk about how a giant woman held him to her giant breast. Both scenes left me feeling less than comfortable -- even moreso than watching Cinderella's stepmother (Christine Baranski, THE GOOD WIFE) try to force the stepdaughter's feet into the slipper by slicing off parts of the foot to fit, or seeing Prince Charming (Chris Pine, STAR TREK) turn out to be a playboy who seduces one of the main characters after finding is princess. As for the story of Rapunzel, this almost seems to be shoehorned into the story, of no seeming consequence except for the red herring it provides at the first climax of the story.

Yes, I did say first climax. Because where the story would traditionally end is where you find there's another thirty minutes left of the film, as consequences of everyone's actions begin to catch up with them before those who remain find a way to come together and live happily ever after.

Despite having my issues with certain elements of the story, INTO THE WOODS was nonetheless a captivating musical, with brilliant performances across the board. The writing of the lyrics and the way they overlapped with other characters' lines telling different stories and yet telling the same story is testament to Sondheim's consummate skill as a songwriter. I'm looking quite forward to repeated viewings of this one.

This Blu-ray / Digital HD release comes with a number of bonus features. In addition to the commentary track and the requisite collection of interviews and behind-the-scenes features, viewers will be treated to a never-before-heard Sondheim song, "She'll Be Back," performed by Meryl Streep and introduced by Director Rob Marshall.

4.0 / 5.0