Twelve years ago, director-choreographer Rob Marshall revitalized the movie-musical with the Oscar-winning "Chicago," which led to a handful of other films over the years also based on Broadway musicals, ranging from Tim Burton's masterful "Sweeney Todd" to Marshall's disastrous "Nine."

Easily the most family-friendly title in the Stephen Sondheim catalogue, yet not without a dark side, "Into the Woods" combines various Grimm Brothers' fairy tales ("Cinderella," "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Little Red Riding Hood," "Rapunzel") into a single plot revolving around a baker and wife, who must undo a witch's curse by venturing into the woods to collect Cinderella's slipper, Jack's cow and Little Red's cape.

Once the plotting has come together and it seems like everything will end happily ever after, the piece takes an unexpected, rather moralistic turn, as the village is threatened with destruction, and the characters are forced to work together as a community in order to save their lives.

"Into the Woods" proves to be a masterful film adaptation of what was already a brilliant and beloved musical, offering beautiful visuals and exceptional performances from a starry ensemble cast (including but not limited to Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, James Corden, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine and Anna Kendrick).

Given director-choreographer Rob Marshall's mixed track record, musical theater aficionados were intrigued but concerned when it was announced that Marshall would adapt Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's 1987 fairy tale musical "Into the Woods" for Disney. Or, to quote a lyric from the show, they were "excited and scared."

In "Chicago" and "Nine," Marshall justified the act of breaking into song by having the audience view the world through the protagonist's eyes and imagination. Thankfully, Marshall did not tack on any such concept onto "Into the Woods." In fact, the original script and score have been faithfully preserved, though abridged at points.

On a personal note, I fell in love with "Into the Woods" while working as a production assistant on a theater camp production at age 14. After being weaned on "Bye Bye Birdie" and "Beauty and the Beast" in middle school, it introduced me to a new kind of intellectually probing, emotionally shattering musical theater. Perhaps some other 14 year olds will feel the same way after seeing this film.

 

 

Directed by Rob Marshall

Starring Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, Chris Pine

Rated PG