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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Into the Woods

March 23rd, 2015

Into the Woods - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Into the Woods first debuted 30 years ago in 1985 starting its Broadway run a year later. The show's original Broadway run earned three Tony Awards and five Drama Desk Awards, while the 2002 revival was nearly as well received with award voters. It is not a surprise that the film was turned into a big budget musical. However, does the theatrical version of Into the Woods live up to the source material? Will fans of musicals who haven't seen the original like it?

The Movie

There are a lot of characters and a lot of plot threads to deal with and the film immediately starts with a song that introduces nearly all of them. I'm not going to go over each one as they are introduced by the song, because that would be far too complicated. Instead, I'm going to break them up into the separate threads.

The main plot thread involves a couple, a Baker and his Wife, who are childless. Very early in the film we learn why. Many years earlier, while the baker's mother was pregnant, his father stole from their neighbor's garden to help feed his family. That neighbor was a Witch, who cursed the family stopping them from having any kids and taking the child the mother was pregnant with. She has returned to offer the Baker and his wife a chance to reverse the curse. They will need to find four items: A cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, a lock of hair as yellow as corn, and a shoe that shines like gold. If they gather these items, the Witch will break the curse and the Wife will become pregnant.

The Witch has a thread of her own. She's the mother to Rapunzel, but she's not a good mother. She keeps Rapunzel locked in a tower so she will be safe from the outside world. However, Rapunzel has an admirer, a Prince, who has been coming to the tower for a while now. Of course the Witch wouldn't like this if she found out.

The next thread is with Cinderella, who wants to go to the King's Festival, perhaps to even see the Prince. However, her evil Stepmother and her two step-sisters, Florinda and Lucinda, taunt her and actively stop her from going. She does have some allies, including birds, which she can talk to.

The third thread involves Jack and his Mother. They live on a poor farm with some chickens and a cow, Milky White. Jack is a moron, to be blunt. His best friend is the cow, which he thinks is a he. However, the cow has stopped producing milk, so Jack's Mother has decided to sell it at the market so they will at least have food.

The final thread involves Little Red Riding Hood, who is off to visit her sick grandmother in the woods. But first, she has to ... obtain some bread and sweets from the Baker and his Wife. Once in the woods, she has to worry about the scary creatures that lurk there, like the Wolf.

Hmm... The Baker and his Wife needed four items and there are four other plot threads besides them. That's not a coincidence. However, how these five threads begin to intertwine quickly gets deep into spoiler territory, so we will end the plot summary there.

In preparation to review Into the Woods, I watched the Original Broadway Production and this film back-to-back so I would be able to compare the two. I enjoyed both versions of the musical; although each has its own strengths and weaknesses. I like the Original Broadway Production a little bit more for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I liked the fact that they could play to the audience. For instance, since it was a stage play, they could have the Narrator as a character on stage that interacts with the other characters and plays an important part of the story. Also, I think the overall cast in the play is better, but keep in mind that Bernadette Peters and Joanna Gleason are personal favorites of mine, so there is some built in biases here. I do think Chip Zien was a better Baker than James Corden was. Another point in favor of the play is that the movie tries to be too family friendly, at least for the first act. The second act is just as dark, so the change is tone is greater here than with the play.

The movie does have some strengths of its own, including the obvious. The visual effects are better in the movie. It is hard to have visual effects in a play. Tracey Ullman gives a little more bite to the role of Jack's Mother. The ages of Little Red Riding Hood and Jack, are much lower in the movie than in the play, which is both good and bad. In the play, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack were played by performers who were 20 years old, more or less. In the play, Little Red Riding Hood comes off as more of a bratty young adult when she is introduced stealing cookies from the Baker and his Wife. (On the other hand, this attitude is useful later on when it comes to selling one of the best lines in the play.) It also makes the ending of the movie make more sense, but details here are well too deep into spoiler territory.

There's another issue when it comes to the age of Little Red Riding Hood. In the Original Broadway Production, the actor who plays the Wolf is in a wolf costume, but isn't fully clothed, so there is visible wolf penis during his scene with Little Red Riding Hood. Visible. Wolf. Penis. I emphasize this fact, because despite there being visible wolf penis in the Broadway play, the corresponding scene in the movie is even creepier. Johnny Depp managed to out-creep visible wolf penis! Granted, a lot of this has to do with Lilla Crawford being so young, but even so, that's impressive display of talent for Johnny Depp.

The Extras

Extras begin with an audio commentary with Rob Marshall, the director, and John DeLuca, one of the producers. Up next is a deleted song, "She'll Be Back", which was for the Witch. It also includes an introduction. There's Something About The Woods is a 13-minute featurette about The Woods and why they are so central to the story, as well as how they were created for the movie. There is also a ten-minute featurette on the cast. Deeper into the Woods in a four-part, 30-minute making of featurette. There is also Music and Lyrics where you can watch the songs with the lyrics on the screen. ... Or you can watch the movie with subtitles.

The technical presentation is fantastic; although that is not unexpected. In fact, it is close to reference level quality. The level of details is strong and the colors really pop. There are many scenes that are quite dark, but the shadows never swallow up details. It goes without saying that there are no compression issues or other digital artifacts. The audio is even better than the video with an engaging 7.1 surround sound track. The music and effects fill the room and there are even dynamic effects to add something extra.

The Blu-ray costs $20, which is $5 or 33% more than the DVD. This is exactly what you would expect from a release like this.

The Verdict

While I prefer the Original Broadway Production, I really like the movie version of Into the Woods as well. I will likely watch both of them again. The DVD or Blu-ray has enough extras that it is easily worth picking up. It might even be a Pick of the Week contender, depending on the competition.

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Filed under: Video Review, Into the Woods, Into the Woods: Original Broadway Production, Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep, Tom Aldredge, Christine Baranski, Tammy Blanchard, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Joanna Gleason, Anna Kendrick, Rob Marshall, Bernadette Peters, Chris Pine, Lucy Punch, Tracey Ullman, Chip Zien, Billy Magnussen, Ben Wright, Simon Russell Beale, John DeLuca, Daniel Huttlestone, Danielle Ferland, Lilla Crawford, MacKenzie Mauzy, Robert Westenberg