Blu-ray Review Comedy

Blu-ray Review: Into the Woods

March 25, 2015Ben MK

Storybook Sondheim...

From West Side Story to Sweeney Todd, the Broadway repertoire of lyricist and composer Stephen Sondheim has been a source of inspiration for Hollywood filmmakers for the last five decades. Now comes Into the Woods, a stage-to-screen adaptation over twenty-five years in the making. It's a musical that weaves together the well-known children's fables of Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk. But if there's one thing more impressive than the movie's roster of beloved storybook characters, it's its knockout cast.


The Film In adapting the story for the big screen, director Rob Marshall and screenwriter James Lapine (who also penned the original Broadway version) take certain liberties with the source material, including an excised musical number here and there, a new song or two and a few plot point alterations. Otherwise, the resulting whirlwind of whimsy and song is remarkably faithful to the stage production. It's also undeniably appealing, thanks to its impressive production values and solid performances.

The film begins with a spirited musical number that has the various characters lyrically musing about their own personal reasons for venturing into the woods. For the spunky Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), it's all about visiting her dear old grandmother, whose home is nestled deep within the woods. But for the irrepressible Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), the woods are merely the route into town, where his frustrated mother (Tracey Ullman) has sent him to sell his beloved bovine companion, Milky White. As for Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), she's desperate to attend a festival at the palace, so she escapes the confines of her late father's house — where she's lorded over by her wicked stepmother (Christine Baranski) and two stepsisters (Lucy Punch and Tammy Blanchard) — and flees into the woods, pausing to seek solace at her mother's grave.

Then there's the kindhearted baker (James Corden) and his dutiful wife (Emily Blunt), a couple who embark into the woods to fulfill the demands of a not-so-wicked witch (Meryl Streep), who's offered to lift the curse that has left them childless. Her conditions: they must retrieve for her four special items — the cow as white as snow, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn and the slipper as pure as gold — before the next blue moon, due in three nights.

As the various subplots and sidequests converge, we also meet a handful of equally notable storybook personalities. Johnny Depp is the Big Bad Wolf who hopes to devour Red and her granny for his next meal; Chris Pine is the charming but disingenuous prince who becomes obsessively smitten with Cinderella; and Billy Magnussen is his more sincere brother, who falls hard for Mackenzie Mauzy's Rapunzel, a fair maiden with lengthy locks and a special connection to both the baker and the witch.

As usual, Streep delivers another wonderful characterization — one that's over the top when it needs to be and nuanced where it counts — but it's Blunt and Pine who absolutely steal the show, wooing audiences with their charm, vocals and humor. Throw in a couple of actors as likeable as Corden and Kendrick into the mix, then factor in the immense singing talents of the young Crawford and Huttlestone, and you have all the makings of an incredible ensemble cast that never fails to give the original Broadway actors a run for their money.

Audio/Visual Fidelity "Striking" and "sumptuous" are words that will spring to viewers' minds when they behold Into the Woods on Blu-ray. From the slivers of moonlight that guide the characters through the foreboding woods, to the individually countable hairs and whiskers on Depp's wolf costume, to the brilliance of Red Riding Hood's blood red cape, this is a reference-grade hi-def transfer from start to finish. Full of dazzling detail, vivid colors and pleasing, three-dimensional depth and clarity, this impressive image is matched only by the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack, which delivers a captivating audio experience, thanks especially to its crystal clear dialogue, smooth vocals and lush, room-filling music.

Special Features Disney's Blu-ray release touts an iTunes digital copy, plus nearly 2 hours of bonus features. A few of these are music-centric, such as the 5-minute deleted song Streep Sings Sondheim - "She'll Be Back" and the hour of Music & Lyrics, providing viewers with direct access to sing-along versions of each of the film's seventeen musical numbers. But there are also a handful of featurettes — namely, a 13-minute making-of piece titled There's Something About the Woods; a 10-minute look at the cast called The Cast as Good as Gold; and a four-part, 30-minute mini-documentary titled Deeper into the Woods, which delves deeper into the adaptation process, the songs and the music, filming and costumes. The disc also comes with an Audio Commentary by Director Rob Marshall and Producer John DeLuca, which features the pair discussing everything from the performances and the costumes to the cinematography and the music, as well as sharing stories from the shoot and from rehearsals. And there is also the option to play the film in its entirety with lyrics appearing on-screen.

The Bottom Line It's taken nearly three decades for Into the Woods to make the leap from the stage to the screen, but longtime fans of Sondheim's original Broadway production should be pleased with the results. For Rob Marshall's adaptation is a star-studded extravaganza that brings this rousing fairytale mashup to life like never before; and Disney's Blu-ray release does it proud. With a superb audio/video presentation and an entertaining array of extras, even those who generally dislike musicals may want to change their tune. As for everyone else, don't hesitate to bring home this magical, musical moviegoing experience.  Ben Mk

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  
Special Features  —  

* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on December 25th, 2014.

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