'Into the Woods,' starring Meryl Streep, stays true to stage version

( PG ) ( Monitor Movie Guide )

This movie musical never degenerates into a false wholesomeness and the large cast is for the most part up to the task, with actors James Corden, Emily Blunt, and Meryl Streep in particular turning in great performances.

Peter Mountain/Disney Enterprises, Inc./AP
'Into the Woods' stars Meryl Streep.

The Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine 1987 musical “Into the Woods” has been transferred to the screen by director Rob Marshall with most of its complexities and light-dark tonalities intact. Rumor had it this Disney production would bland out the show’s richness, but this turns out not to be the case. Although its first hour is more stunning than its second, this is a movie musical that, for a change, never degenerates into a false wholesomeness. It’s one of the rare musicals that both children and adults can enjoy, though for somewhat different reasons. Children will delight in the vast potpourri of classic fairy tales that have been mashed together; adults will appreciate the wisdom and moral reckonings in the retellings.

The cast is large and for the most part up to the task. James Corden and Emily Blunt are wonderful as the village baker and his wife, who are childless due to the curse placed upon them (long story) by the blue-haired Wicked Witch, played and sung with ravishing zest by Meryl Streep, looking like she’s having the time of her life. Anna Kendrick (a bit vanilla for my taste) is Cinderella, who, in this version of the tale, purposely leaves behind her glass slipper for the Prince (Chris Pine) to find. The Prince is a fatuous twit whose best line comes when he confesses, “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.”

Among the large cast is also Johnny Depp’s somewhat underused zoot-suited Wolf, Tracey Ullman as the overbearing mother of Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), and Lilla Crawford as a precocious Red Riding Hood. Most of Sondheim’s score, one of his best, is retained, with full justice done to such classics as “Children Will Listen" and "Stay With Me." Grade: B+ (Rated PG for thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material.)

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