Grimm magic

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images -

Into the Woods, mu­si­cal, rated PG, Re­gal Sta­dium 14, 3.5 chiles The mu­si­cals of Stephen Sond­heim are such crea­tures of the theater that one fears what may hap­pen when Hol­ly­wood sinks its talons into them. When Rob Mar­shall, who pre­vi­ously di­rected screen ver­sions of such mu­si­cals as Chicago and Nine, broached the idea of a stage-to-screen adap­ta­tion with Sond­heim, the com­poser-lyri­cist sug­gested Into the Woods as worth con­tem­plat­ing.

It is prob­a­bly the most per­formed of Sond­heim mu­si­cals, its fairy-tale plot mak­ing it a stan­dard of youth the­aters, where it is of­ten given in an au­thor-sanc­tioned “ju­nior ver­sion” that shears off the psy­cho­log­i­cally disturbing sec­ond act. Mar­shall’s new film, of­fered by Walt Dis­ney Pic­tures, does not take that cas­trat­ing ap­proach but rather of­fers the work in es­sen­tially com­plete form. It is what the show was meant to be: an ex­plo­ration of how eter­nal truths com­pressed into chil­dren’s tales are just the start­ing point when peo­ple be­gin to wend their way into the woods of adult life, trac­ing their in­di­vid­ual routes from paths they in­her­ited from their par­ents. Not­with­stand­ing its sto­ry­book set­ting peo­pled by Red Rid­ing Hood, Ra­pun­zel, Cin­derella, and the rest, the show raises deep ques­tions about ex­pec­ta­tions, dis­ap­point­ments, and the costs of the ex­am­ined life.

The Dis­ney stu­dio can han­dle that. What it ap­par­ently finds fright­en­ing is that the piece is a mu­si­cal, a point it down­plays into near-ex­tinc­tion in its trailer, which is almost en­tirely limited to spo­ken di­a­logue. Make no mis­take: Into the Woods is very much a mu­si­cal film, prac­ti­cally a through­com­posed opera. For­tu­nately, ev­ery mem­ber of the ter­rific cast is ca­pa­ble of putting across songs and en­sem­bles ef­fec­tively. All bring sub­tlety and speci­ficity to their in­ter­pre­ta­tions. Meryl Streep is at the cen­ter of the ac­tion as a witch who is also an over­pro­tec­tive mother. Her ex­plo­sive en­trance sets the hur­dle high, but her in­ter­pre­ta­tion of this com­plex role never flags, reach­ing its pow­er­ful apex in her song “Stay With Me.” Johnny Depp gets creepy as the Wolf who sali­vates over Red Rid­ing Hood, teen ac­tress Lilla Craw­ford. She re­placed the ten-year-old orig­i­nally cast in that part to avoid un­com­fort­ably pe­dophilic un­der­tones, which may have been less­ened but still re­main. The movie gets full Dis­ney treat­ment, filled with mag­i­cal fan­tasy and visual en­ergy, but I’m not sure who its mar­ket will be. At the gen­eral-au­di­ence pre­view I at­tended, some gen­tle­men re­belled upon re­al­iz­ing that their girl­friends had dragged them to (gasp!) a mu­si­cal, and many chil­dren lost in­ter­est in the course of the two-plus hours. Ac­tual grown-ups, how­ever, should find it en­gross­ing and en­rich­ing.

— James M. Keller

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