Into the Woods (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (2nd April 2015).
The Film

Once upon a time there lived a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) who were unhappy because they had no children. Out of the blue, the Witch (Meryl Streep) who lives next door reveals to them that the reason they are unable to conceive is because of his father (Simon Russell Beale) who raided her garden to satisfy the cravings of his pregnant wife. She spared his life in exchange for the baker's newborn sister, but did not realize that he had stolen her magic beans. When she lost her own youth and beauty as punishment, she cursed the baker's family tree to be barren one. She offers to lift the curse if the baker and his wife can supply her with four ingredients for a spell: "one: the cow as white as milk, two: the cape as red as blood, three: the hair as yellow as corn, four: the slipper as pure as gold" before the next blue moon which occurs in three days' time and once every hundred years. They are not the only storybook characters venturing into the woods. Stepdaughter-turned-scullery maid Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) has gone to her mother's grave with a wish to go to the festival to meet the Prince after being forbidden by her wicked stepmother (Christine Baranski) and cackling stepsisters (Tammy Blanchard) and (Lucy Punch)). His beloved cow Milky White gives no milk so Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) has been ordered by his mother (Tracey Ullman) to unload it at the market. Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) is on her way to grandmother's house with treats (half of which she has already devoured).

The baker is too kindhearted to swindle Jack out of his cow or steal Little Red Riding Hood's cape, but his wife is more ruthless and trades the magic beans found in her husband's father's cloak for the cow. The baker may lose the cape and Little Red along with her grandmother (Annette Crosbie) to the jaws of a ravenous wolf (Johnny Depp). The baker's wife is also able to secure the golden slipper when she exchanges her own shoes for Cinderella's as she flees her prince (Chris Pine) and overhears another prince (Billy Magnussen) from a neighboring kingdom boast of courting Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy): a girl with hair as yellow as gold imprisoned in a tower by her literal witch of a mother who is about to blind her suitor (come on, you've read the fairy tale). Long story short: the baker and his wife undo the curse, Cinderella and Rapunzel get their princes, Jack buys his cow back and enriches himself and his mother from the purloined riches of the slain giant, and Little Red and her grandmother are saved from the wolf's stomach, and the witch regains her youth. They are all, however, about to learn that lose ends can scuttle a happy ending or five.

It took twenty-eight years for the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical to reach the screen although it had reportedly been in Disney development hell since the nineties with the proposed cast changing a number of times and the results are mixed. Corden, Kendrick, and Blunt acquit themselves nicely while Pine gets by on the audience surprise that he actually can sing. Streep, on the other hand, is uneven in the first half (Ullman might have made a better witch as she is certainly wasted here as Jack's mother) and the gimmicky casting of Depp as the Wolf falls flat quickly. The production design by Dennis Gassner and costume design of Colleen Atwood are handsome and the visual effects of (Moving Picture Company) are faultless, but Dion Beebe's cinematography favors golds and blues over the sort of full Technicolor palette one expects from a classic Disney film (sometimes to attractive effect and sometimes not so much). Much of the issues with the film are up to the challenge of adapting the musical to film while both opening it up to opportunities cinema affords over the state and containing the narrative within a workable running time (a conservative one here at just over two hours), but in spite of the approval of Sondheim and Lapine, who also scripted the film adaptation a certain dulling down and attempt to modernize the style of a post-modern play with flashy direction by Rob Marshall (who had previously helmed adaptations of Annie for television and (Chicago) for film).

Of course, after so long in development, the film cannot help but be compared to the stage version in whatever productions viewers may have seen over the years or the (1991 American Playhouse taping of the Broadway version directed by Lapine and starring Bernadette Peters as the witch among other actors who may be lesser known but upon whose performances the newer ones might be judged. The show's more wicked (or Grimm-er) touches have been blunted to the PG-level of "suggestive material." A handful of songs were cut, some characters who died survive, and the deaths that do occur in the film including one major character have no emotional resonance (nor do the romantic and familial relationships shattered by deception). Jack's trips up the beanstalk and encounters with the giant and Cinderella's visits to the festival occurred off-screen in the stage version because of their peripheral importance to the immediate events and the difficulty of realizing them on the stage live. The brief visualizations of Jack climbing the beanstalk make the absence of an entire depiction of the Jack's story however unnecessary seem like a lazy omission while the film probably could have done with a brief visit to the festival and love at first sight (rather than two shots of Cinderella fleeing down the steps of the palace). Songs featuring all of the performers together on stage (albeit in different locations) lose some of their "warmth" as the film cuts back and forth between the respective settings of the characters while the moral of the witch's final song "Careful the things you say, children will listen" may be missed by viewers without the witch present and the final crane shot into the clouds vying for attention. Interestingly, the same actor essayed the roles of the "predatory" characters of the Wolf and Cinderella's Prince, which seems more appropriate since Little Red Riding Hood surmises from her experience with the Wolf that "nice is different than good" and the prince later explains his reasons for straying from Cinderella that he was brought up to be "nice, not sincere." Whether it is fair or not to compare the film to the source especially since Disney may simply be marketing a familiar-sounding property with recognizable characters to newer audiences rather than those familiar with it the twenty-odd year wait for the film adaptation has resulted in a handsome production that nevertheless may not live up to expectations.

Video

The MPEG-4 AVC 2.39:1 widescreen image is as spectacular as one would expect from Disney and a recent production with solid depth and detail.

Audio

The primary audio option is a lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 that impresses with a wide range of forest atmosphere, thunderous giant footsteps, dialogue and vocals (the musical accompaniment is certainly there, but at a volume supportive of the vocals rather than overwhelming the sound design). Lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are also included in French, Spanish, and Thai (as well as an English Dolby Digital 2.0 descriptive audio track) while subtitle options include English, English for the Hard of Hearing, French, Indonesian, Korean, Mandarin (Simplified), Mandarin (Traditional), Portuguese (Brazilian), Spanish (Latin), and Thai.

Extras

First up is an Audio Commentary by director Rob Marshall and producers John DeLuca and Marc Platt. More interesting than the usual platitudes for the cast, the crew, and one another is the discussion throughout changes made to the script (the removal of lyrics, the expansion of the baker's concerns about being a father, and other changes that were not entirely about making the film friendly for younger audiences). They also discuss the challenge of creating a fairytale world while using as little CGI as possible (apart from the removal of television aerials from location shots, the expansion of the woods in some Drone aerial shots, and other enhancements) and the complex staging and long takes required of certain passages of songs featuring more than one performer. One of the interesting points they mention is an attempt to present the parts of the opening sequence where the Baker and his wife, Cinderella, and Jack are all singing simultaneously in triple split-screen but found that the viewer's eye would inevitable move towards the center of the frame.

The deleted song "She'll Be Back" (4:48) is preceded by an introduction by director Marshall who reveals that the song was newly written for Streep by Sondheim and filmed, but it was ultimately decided that the pacing suffered with its inclusion. The "There's Something in the Woods" featurette (13:23) includes talking heads by the cast and crew - including Marshall and the producers - with an emphasis on the importance of the stylized woods setting (with some surprising reveals of what portions are real and which are studio sets) as well as the participants' recollections of seeing the play on Broadway. Sondheim and Lapine also talk about the origins of the musical.

In the featurette "The Cast as Good as Gold" (10:10), Marshall and the main cast reflect on finding their own characters and creating chemistry with one another. Streep amusingly recalls being offered three witch parts in a row after turning forty and turning down such roles until she was approached for Into the Woods. "Deeper Into the Woods" is a four-part featurette - "From Stage to Screen" (8:33), , "Magic of the Woods" (7:24), "Designing the Woods" (7:07), and "Costumes of the Woods" (6:53) - that makes the prior pieces redundant and seem even more like press kit filler.

A Music & Lyrics menu option allows the viewer to navigate to the songs with included lyrics or to play them all sequentially. More surprising is the appearance of a pop-up menu during the start-up trailers - which include the May 2015 release Tomorrowland and the 3D reissue of Aladdin that allows the viewer not only to skip to the main menu but to also skip to the next trailer.

Packaging

Disney's slipcover and insert cover art highlight close-ups of the stars and the Disney possessory credit with only Little Red Riding Hood as a recognizable fairy tale character. The back cover is so glutted with information with A/V specs and extras taking a back seat to information about how to download the Digital HD copy and the platforms for it.

Overall

The Film: C+ Video: A Audio: A Extras: C+ Overall: B

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, and amazon.de.