ONE OF MY PRIZED POSSESSIONS as a very cool nine-year-old was a VHS copy of the original cast performance of Into the Woods, recorded off TV at some point in the early '90s. I knew—and still know—all of the songs by heart. So when I heard that the play was the latest musical to be turned into a movie, I was elated, then worried. Rumors of Disneyfication of the sometimes-racy storyline only added to my concerns.
Fellow musical theater dorks: Worry not! This movie is not only true to the original Sondheim production, but is perhaps better on screen, with bigger giants, scarier witches, and more of those woods they're always singing about.
If you didn't spend your childhood in front of a TV, Into the Woods is the story of several other stories, including Jack and the Beanstalk (Daniel Huttlestone), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), and Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford). The stories are tied together by a baker (James Corden), his wife (Emily Blunt), and a spell cast on their house by the grimy witch next door (Meryl Streep, who should stop hogging all of the talent).
Johnny Depp pops up briefly as the Big Bad Wolf, inexplicably wearing human clothes, making me wonder if he's got a fedora/creepy mustache clause in all of his contracts. Alas, Depp's song is one of the few that doesn't work onscreen, but thankfully, Chris Pine's "Agony"—in which he tries to out-lament Rapunzel's prince over their inaccessible princesses—more than makes up for it, cementing Pine as the number-one crush for both girl and boy nerds everywhere.
Into the Woods is not the type of musical Oscar bait that Les Misérables and Chicago were in years past; it's far too silly for that. But it is a beautiful and fun experience, if you'll let yourself be cool enough to appreciate characters who break out into songs about spells and festivals. As you should.