Film review: These woods are lovely, vibrant and musical

Film review: These woods are lovely, vibrant and musical
The Baker (James Corden), left, and his Wife (Emily Blunt) meet Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and his cow, Milky Way, in the woods, in Disney’s “Into the Woods,” opening Dec.25. Photo by Peter Mountain

Fans of Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway work will probably have a far deeper connection to “Into the Woods” than I ever will; as a newcomer, however, what we have here is a vibrant fantasy musical and a solid means of bringing 2014 to a close.

Somehow the age-old coupling of fantasy and music almost never ceases to impress me. That’s what happens when fairy tales and songs form a significant component of your childhood.

Or perhaps it’s because these two elements really complement each other, magnifying the former’s voice and beautifying the latter’s structure. Whatever the reason may be, mixing the lyrical with the fantastical has won audiences (as well as me) over time and again.

The undeniable appeal of this effective combo can be seen once more through “Into the Woods,” adapted from James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical of the same name.

“Into the Woods” revolves around a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) who, after discovering a vengeful witch (Meryl Streep) has cast a spell of childlessness on them, set out on a quest to start a family.

In order to achieve this goal, they must collect several objects from the nearby forest to break the curse.

Along the way, they encounter other prominent fairy tale characters such as Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), and Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), whose destinies are intertwined with their own.

Although director Rob Marshall has a lot on his plate with the interconnected narrative, he doesn’t lose concentration, organizing each character’s journey to ensure a smooth flow of events.

With the storylines arranged in an orderly manner, the plot moves fast and never bores; it’s fascinating to see how the characters’ wishes and actions result in consequences that affect them, imbuing the larger-than-life setting with a wonderful human touch.

With respect to the technical aspects, “Into the Woods” features no shortage of beautiful shots of this rich fantasy world, particularly the woods where most of the action takes place.

As much as I’ll admit the delivery of each musical number does sound almost unnaturally pitch perfect, I feel this doesn’t diminish the expressive qualities of each key player when it’s his or her turn to speak (or should I say, sing) their mind.

Speaking of key players, Marshall’s ensemble cast proves competent in articulating the various emotions they go through as the consequences of their intentions and interactions during their individual journeys begin to affect them. Both Corden and Blunt have great chemistry as the Baker and his Wife, respectively, and Kendrick is satisfactory in her role of Cinderella. But it is Streep’s scene-stealing performance as the blue-haired Witch that guarantees “Into the Woods” will be a swell choice for families curious about what’s worth the price of admission during the winter holidays.

Because I have never seen “Into the Woods” on the stage before, I cannot comment on how different or similar this film is to its source material.

What I will say, however, is that I was not the least bit displeased with what Rob Marshall accomplished here, which turned out to be an enjoyable experience and had a number of interesting surprises I didn’t see coming.

And for that, both the director and cast (Streep in particular) have my thanks for a job well done.

MPAA rating: PG for thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material.

Run time: 2 hours 4 minutes

Playing: Now playing

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