Guest Review by: Taylor Victor

“Once upon a time, in a far off kingdom, there lay a small village at the edge of the woods…”

Welcome to the magical, musical world of “Into the Woods.” Originally a Broadway musical that premiered in 1987, Stephen Sondheim and
James Lapine’s glorious fantasy gives us a glimpse into what happens to a group of classical fairy tale characters before and after their
happy endings.

The film is narrated by the Baker (James Corden), and it begins with the main characters delving into the age old question – what do you
wish for? The Baker and his Wife (Emily Blunt) wish for a child, Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) wishes to go to the King’s Festival, Jack (as in
Jack and the Beanstalk) wishes for his cow to give him some milk, and Little Red Riding Hood wishes to visit her Grandmother’s house in
the woods.

The Baker and his Wife discover they have been unable to have a child due to a curse put on their house long ago by the Witch who lives
next door (played brilliantly by Meryl Streep). In order to lift the curse, they must venture into the woods and collect four items before the
chime of midnight in three days’ time when the blue moon reappears. Once the items have been collected and presented to the Witch, she
guarantees them a child.

The journey begins and each of our main characters embarks on their missions. Cinderella gets to go to the Festival, Jack sells his cow to
the Baker and his Wife for five magic beans, Little Red finds her way to Grandmother’s house, and the Baker and his Wife begin to collect
their needed items.

This is where the second theme of the movie kicks in (slight spoilers ahead) – what happens after ‘happily ever after?’ Cinderella realizes
she may not be cut out for the ‘Princess life’ with the Prince. Little Red trusts the Wolf too much and is devoured by him (only to be revived
later by the Baker who cuts the Wolf open). Jack’s magic beans grow a beanstalk that spawns a Giant who wreaks havoc on their village.
The Baker and his Wife do eventually collect all of their needed items and the Witch grants them their wish of having a child, only to have
the Wife fall off a cliff and die not long after.

The second act of the movie feels a tad more rushed than in the stage version. It’s also where die-hard fans of the stage show will notice
most of the film’s alterations. However, I felt most of the changes were harmless and really did not stick out as major issues.

What the production really gets right is the casting. The film touts a terrific mix of Broadway vets and musical newcomers.

Chris Pine is superb as Cinderella’s Prince, bringing both charm and witty narcissism to the role. The song “Agony,” a duet between Pine
and Billy Magnussen (Rapunzel’s Prince), is one of the funnier moments of the film as the brothers lament over why their ladies have not
yet run away with them.

Although Johnny Depp shares top billing, he is barely in the movie for five minutes as the Wolf. Once again, Depp shows us how great he is
at portraying a character that’s just a little ‘off.’ His Wolf is a little jazzy and deliciously creepy. Since this is a Disney production, they had to
downplay the song “Hello, Little Girl” just a tad, giving it a slightly more upbeat orchestration due to the strong themes of pedophilia. But I
believe young ones experiencing the music for the first time will write it off as only ‘the scary Big Bad Wolf,’ while the ‘ick’ factor will be left
for the adults to shake off.

Anna Kendrick is lovely as Cinderella. We have come to know her vocal talent from such films as ‘Camp’ and ‘Pitch Perfect.’ Emily Blunt
introduces us to her quite delightful voice, as we have never really heard her sing before in movies or on stage. She complements Corden
beautifully as the Baker’s Wife.

However, the cast member who really shines here is Meryl Streep. We all know Meryl is the Queen of acting, as she has been nominated a
million times over for every award that exists. Unfortunately, we have never seen her vocal chops put to good use until now (sorry ‘Mamma
Mia!’). “Stay With Me” is relatively early in the film, and is an absolute show-stopper. She brings the house down and does not leave a dry
eye in the place. I have no doubt that we will hear her name called to the stage a few more times as awards season ramps up.

Director Rob Marshall and screenwriter Lapine really do the impossible here – flawlessly translate a fan-favorite Sondheim musical into a
beautiful film. What Marshall did for ‘Chicago,’ he does for ‘Into the Woods.’ I fully recommend this for all theater fans, Meryl fans, or just
fans of a good time at the movies.

* * *
(out of four)
Directed by: Rob Marshall

Written by: James Lapine (screenplay & musical)

Starring: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Chris
Pine, James Corden, Johnny Depp

Cinematography by: Dion Beebe

Music and Lyrics by: Stephen Sondheim (film & musical)

Released: December 25, 2014; 125 Minutes