New on Blu: Go INTO THE WOODS, If You Dare

Into the Woods is now available on Blu-ray.

I’m never averse to checking out a new musical, and though Into the Woods itself isn’t new — it began as a Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine stage production that hit Broadway in the eighties — it’s new to me, and new to film as well. If you’re a fan of the idea of fairy tale mash-ups a la Once Upon a Time, you’ll appreciate the intersectionality of Into the Woods, which brings together classic characters Jack (of the beanstalk), Little Red Riding Hood, the Big Bad Wolf, Cinderella, and Rapunzel, along with a witch and childless baker couple.

The film adaptation of Into the Woods, which was released on Blu-ray this week, is a solid affair, despite being somewhat overlong. Broadway purists might be a little disappointed to find that certain characters are left out altogether, or have reduced roles, though from what I’ve read of the Broadway version nothing got cut that it didn’t make sense to cut. The remaining characters are well-cast overall, with Anna Kendrick probably the weakest link as Cinderella. Meryl Streep has a blast with the role of the witch, created on Broadway by the legendary Bernadette Peters. The bakers are well played by Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow) and James Corden, who is unknown as yet to most Americans, but has already started making waves as the new host of The Late Late Show. Evil stepmother Christine Baranski and stepsisters Tammy Blanchard and Lucy Punch are delightfully terrible, and child actors Daniel Huttlestone and Lilla Crawford do a good job as Jack and Red. And did I mention Johnny Depp plays the wolf, Chris Pine a prince, and Tracey Ullman Jack’s mom?

Into the Woods looks absolutely gorgeous, with a mix of costumes that span actual eras while maintaining a fairy tale vibe (the wolf wears a zoot suit), and rich colors from both actual and man-made woods. I have no complaints about the special effects, the most risky of which is a giantess, who they wisely keep mostly hidden behind trees. It’s well acted and well sung, occasionally comedic (see: the bombastic princes showboating while singing about the agony of love) and intriguing to watch how the paths of the characters cross and become more intertwined as things progress. I can’t fault anything about the production other than it being overlong, as I mentioned. I have a little more trouble with the story itself, for which I suppose I can thank Sondheim and Lapine in the first place.

The short version of the plot is that it centers around the childless bakers, who learn their lack of fecundity is due to a curse placed on their house by the witch next door. She offers to remove the curse if the couple will bring her four components she needs for a spell, none of which she is allowed to touch herself, in time for the once-in-a lifetime blue moon happening three midnights away. The baker begins his quest into the woods as Red enters the woods to visit her sick granny, Jack enters to take his cow to market to sell so his mother can afford food, and Cinderella enters to visit her mother’s grave to express her sadness at not being allowed to attend the king’s festival. Basically, everyone entering the woods is doing so because they are unhappy with something in their life and want to change it. And that’s where I started to get unsettled. I’ll try not to spoil things too much, but basically every character sticks their neck out and takes a risk in the pursuit of happiness, and everything goes to hell in a handbasket.

What am I supposed to glean from this?? That you should be careful what you wish for? That if everyone had only appreciated what they had instead of taking risks in search of more, everything would’ve been fine? Or that the risks are worth the lessons learned, with everyone sadder but wiser? Or is the message that things may get messy and not turn out as expected, but you can still pull a happy ending out of the ashes? I don’t like any of those options. Why can’t someone take a risk to better their situation and their happiness, and have it work out OK? (I guess one minor character sort of does that, maybe.) Why does the one woman who does something vaguely sexually “immoral” immediately meet a bad end? (Don’t get me started, but that one really ticks me off.) The whole thing is just a bit unsettling. I can only assume that that’s the point, as the journey through the woods is apparently intended as a metaphor for life. Life’s not neat and clean and happy, so why should the story be?

Special Features and Extras

The features for Into the Woods are actually fairly interesting, and worth watching if you enjoy the movie.

Streep Sings Sondheim — learn the story of and hear Meryl sing the new Sondheim song that was created especially for the film, then edited out of the final product

Music & Lyrics — clips of the musical numbers shown with lyrics; great if you ever intend to do Into the Woods karaoke

The Cast as Good as Gold — learn more about the cast and casting process

Audio Commentary — with director Rob Marshall and producer John DeLuca

There’s Something About the Woods — interesting featurette that gives an overview of several topics, such as the significance of the woods, the inspirations for the musical, the forest sets and their construction, music, costumes, and more.

Deeper Into the Woods — a set of four featurettes that go more in depth on some of the topics covered in the previous featurette; From Stage to Screen (the transition), The Magic of the Woods (the music), Designing the Woods (set design & construction), and The Costumes of the Woods (costumes, duh)

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