Into the Woods Blu-ray Review
There are many great American musicals based on Grimm’s fairytales. INTO THE WOODS, written by famous Broadway composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim with famous Broadway writer/director and longtime collaborator James Lapine, was the first to mash them all up into a swirly, heady hash and spit them back out. Audiences loved it. While the Broadway show premiered in 1987, it took almost 30 years for this iconic Broadway musical to hit the big screen, but now that it’s here and on Blu-ray, the film is a testament both the magic of Disney, the incredible (and surprising) talent of many film stars, and the imaginative and ever-cool and steady Sondheim.
INTO THE WOODS is not your typical Disney musical, even with their recent string of a (very few) live action musicals. That’s not to say that either one is inherently good or bad, just that your expectations should be reasonable when you enter into this film. The simplest way to say it – INTO THE WOODS is to Disney musicals what SWEENEY TODD was to traditional opera at the time (and both happen to be written by Stephen Sondheim). INTO THE WOODS takes your expectations of musicals, Music Theater, even the fairy tales around which this loose story is told, all while poking fun at the traditional Disney musical in a very ‘meta’ way.
INTO THE WOODS combines the stories of the Baker’s Wife, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Red Riding Hood and puts them inside a realm where everything is connected and nothing is exactly what it seems to be. The people within the world of INTO THE WOODS are simple enough folk though the main characters are given enough depth (barely) that they are able to become truly interesting individuals to watch. The smaller roles, the character actors, do a phenomenal job setting the tone but exist almost entirely (with a few notable exceptions) as atmospheric set pieces rather than true drivers of the story. Though, I would be remiss to make a statement like this without acknowledging that two of my favorite scenes, and one actor in particular, could not have existed in this film and given it anywhere near the level of fun that he did if not for his extremely limited character development.
I was surprised, and you might be as well, to find out just how smart INTO THE WOODS is… I’ve always been a fan of Sondheim (who has written some of the greatest Broadway musicals of all time) but still little can prepare you for the visual and auditory cacophony his music presents. The actors discuss it during the deep cove of special features available on the Blu-ray, his note pairings are simply not the type of things you will hear anywhere else. And while it was initially surprising to watch a movie with his touch and obviously more than a little Disney-influence, in the end I found INTO THE WOODS to be a surprisingly enjoyable ride.
I talked a little bit about character earlier but it bears further comment: the characters in this film (with the exception of the kid who plays Jack) are all absolutely perfectly cast. Anna Kendrick has really hit her stride since bursting onto the scene and tearing up the scenery with George Clooney in UP IN THE AIR (not her first, but arguably her finest role to this point besides PITCH PERFECT). Tracey Ullman plays Jack’s mother, in another inspired bit of casting, and the filmmakers were smart enough to get a true singer/performer to play Red Riding Hood, though her performance is easily the most overacted in the entire film. Still, the exaggerated nature starts to feel natural for Red Riding Hood, even though it feels stunted at the onset. Still, she has a beautiful voice and does a very nice job with the role.
It’s no surprise that once again Meryl Streep turns in yet another career defining performance, this time as the witch who cursed the baker’s family. But the finest moments are those of mood and tone and of very non-traditional characters. The first is “the woods” – which is truly a character in and of itself and one with lots of beauty, charm, and a disarming otherworldliness that is completely unnerving. The others are those characters I mentioned before as being more for atmosphere – specifically Chris Pine (STAR TREK’s new James T. Kirk) as Prince Charming (“I was raised to be charming…”). Who knew this guy could sing and be so believable in such a meathead role.
Watching INTO THE WOODS gives the viewer a strange feeling from time to time, because it just isn’t like anything that has been presented on screen to this point in the musical world. And while I believe it’s filmmaker Rob Marshall’s finest musical film to date I’m sure it will never reach the level of popularity of his CHICAGO translation. Yet, perhaps it is due to his pairing wiith Sondheim (or my obvious affection for his work) that makes INTO THE WOODS feel transcendant if not a little bit overlong and wrought out. I definitely recommend checking it out but warn those excpecting a sappy, everything is wonderful Disney-Princess movie to go in with your eyes wide open.
Video: (1080p Widescreen 2.39:1) The video presentation of INTO THE WOODS is immersive and beautiful in its unreality.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1) The audio is where INTO THE WOODS really shines, providing a great audio track that runs over the entire film like a great golden string holding it all together. The biggest surprise to me was how clearly you can hear all of the notes being sung despite this production having an 80-piece orchestra attached to it.
Streep Sings Sondheim – “She’ll Be Back” (04:48) Director Marshall introduces and explains why this song, one of the originals written by Sondheim for the film, was cut from the theatrical cut of INTO THE WOODS, followed by the actual cut footage.
There’s Something About the Woods (13:23) The cast and crew from INTO THE WOODS talk about what they found so appealing about being involved of this
The Cast as Good as Gold (10:10) This feature is focused on the casting that really brings INTO THE WOODS together and elevates it into something incredible.
Deeper Into the Woods
From Stage to Screen (08:33) A more in-depth look at the transition from Broadway to Hollywood and the changes to INTO THE WOODS.
The Magic of the Woods (07:24) This feature looks at the technical aspects, putting together the sound, the editing, and the incredible sound mixing and editing. (note – this is maybe the finest bit of editing I’ve ever seen – you really don’t feel it at all)
Designing the Woods (07:07) The woods are almost a character in INTO THE WOODS and this short feature focuses on the design and presentation of the woods to fit the original intentions of both Sondheim, Lapine, and now Marshall.
The Costumes of the Woods (06:53) This final deep-dive featurette focuses on the costumes and looks of the characters within INTO THE WOODS.
Audio Commentary with director Rob Marshall and producer John DeLuca (02:04:45) The Audio Commentary on INTO THE WOODS is very nice but goes into some familiar territory if you’ve already checked out the other special features on the Blu-ray. Still, it’s an immersive track that goes in depth into the process of casting and working with an ensemble cast the likes of which we don’t often get to see.
Music & Lyrics – Through the Blu-ray Menu you may select any song from INTO THE WOODS and watch it with scrolling, Karaoke-style lyrics. Each song is available a la carte or via a welcome “Play All” option that basically plays out as a video original cast recording. You may also choose to watch INTO THE WOODS with lyrics available on-screen so you can sing along as the songs play out in the continuity of the greater story.
Songs and running times follow:
- Prologue: Into the Woods (15:47)
- Hello Little Girl (02:30)
- I Know Things Now (02:20)
- A Very Nice Prince (01:29)
- Giants in the Sky (02:27)
- Agony (02:38)
- It Takes Two (02:35)
- Stay with Me (03:12)
- On the Steps of the Palace (02:57)
- Witch’s Lament (00:53)
- Any Moment (01:40)
- Moments in the Woods (03:13)
- Your Fault (02:05)
- Last Midnight (03:36)
- No One is Alone (03:20)
- You are Not Alone/Children Will Listen (03:39)
- Finale (01:42)
The Blu-ray also comes with a Disney Movies Anywhere Digital Copy of INTO THE WOODS which means that it will automatically be added, via your Disney account, to both your UltraViolet and iTunes and/or Google Play movie accounts (which is totally worth linking them).