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Into the Woods Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

Into the Woods (2014) movie poster Into the Woods

Theatrical Release: December 25, 2014 / Running Time: 124 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Rob Marshall / Writers: James Lapine (screenplay & musical), Stephen Sondheim (musical)

Cast: Meryl Streep (Witch), Emily Blunt (Baker's Wife), James Corden (Baker), Anna Kendrick (Cinderella), Chris Pine (Cinderella's Prince), Tracey Ullman (Jack's Mother), Christine Baranski (Cinderella's Stepmother), Johnny Depp (Wolf), Lilla Crawford (Little Red Riding Hood), Daniel Huttlestone (Jack), Billy Magnussen (Rapunzel's Prince), MacKenzie Mauzy (Rapunzel), Tammy Blanchard (Florinda), Lucy Punch (Lucinda), Frances de la Tour (Giant), Simon Russell Beale (Baker's Father), Joanna Riding (Cinderella's Mother), Annette Crosbie (Granny), Richard Glover (Steward), Tug (Milky White)

Songs: "Prologue: Into the Woods", "Cinderella at the Grave", "Hello, Little Girl", "Rapunzel's Song", "The Cow as White as Milk", "I Know Things Now", "A Very Nice Prince", "Giants in the Sky", "Agony", "It Takes Two", "Stay with Me", "On the Steps of the Palace", "Careful My Toe", "Witch's Lament", "Any Moment", "Moments in the Woods" "Your Fault", "Last Midnight", "No One Is Alone", "Finale/Children Will Listen", "Into the Woods (Reprise)"

Buy Into the Woods from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD • DVD • Instant Video

For some reason, Christmastime brings Broadway musicals to the silver screen. There was Chicago in 2002, Phantom of the Opera in 2004, The Producers in 2005, Dreamgirls in 2006,
Sweeney Todd in 2007, Nine in 2009, and Les Misιrables in 2012. All of them opened within ten days of Christmas to cautious optimism from fans of those successful stage shows. Cautious, because what works in theatre doesn't always work in film. Optimism because at the very least the songs and story they love will be there to renew interest and win over newcomers. In 2014, we got two movie musicals adapted from stage: the Annie remake and unwrapping on Christmas eight days later, Into the Woods. Hopes were generally higher for the latter.

Woods hails from the beloved 1980s musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, a show familiar to and popular with anyone versed in drama clubs and community theatre as performer or spectator. It finally makes its way to film from Chicago and Nine director Rob Marshall, produced and distributed by Disney with Lapine writing the screenplay and a cast full of A-list Hollywood talent.

The quest of a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) to break a curse and have a child drives the tangled plot of "Into the Woods."

Like the stage show, the film is set in a world in which fairy tale characters co-exist. The stories of Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel run into one another, forming a tangled narrative. At the center of it is a couple -- the Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) -- who have been unable to conceive a child. A visit from their neighbor, the Witch (Meryl Streep), explains why that is and how the only way her curse on their fertility will be lifted is to acquire four items she needs but cannot personally touch: the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold. The couple has just three nightfalls to bring these items to the Witch and let her work her magic.

The bakers' efforts lead us to these different familiar storylines. Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) goes into the woods to visit her grandmother and instead runs into a big bad wolf (Johnny Depp). Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) gets her chores done and some help from her late mother to attend multiple royal balls. And young Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) goes off to sell his best friend, a cow that has stopped producing milk, so that he and his mother (Tracey Ullman) might eat again. Though instructed to sell the animal for no fewer than five golden pounds, Jack gives the cow to the baker and wife in exchange for five "magic" beans.

Checking off the four items on the Witch's supply list isn't as easy as that, though. The bakers' count of the required objects rises and falls. Our attention from that is redirected elsewhere, to two princes (Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen) who are smitten by two different princesses and a giant woman (Frances de la Tour) who climbs down one of the stalks sprouting from the beans to exact revenge on the boy who caused her husband's death.

Meryl Streep earned her record nineteenth Academy Award acting nomination for her supporting performance as the Witch.

Into the Woods makes the leap from stage to screen without much difficulty or imagination. The 2½-hour play has been condensed to a more suitable runtime of 125 minutes with long credits scroll. The character of the narrator is lost and so too is perhaps the play's biggest laugh. The narration becomes a more traditional voiceover, provided by the Baker, and the fourth wall remains unbroken. Also lost is the artifice of theatre. On stage, the giant was unseen, just a loud, deep voice.
Here, she is real, towering over the townsfolk, though her face is obscured in all but one brief shot. The cow is real. The castle is real, or at least realistic-looking CGI. Jack and Red Riding Hood are real children, not adults playing young and dumb. The one exception to this progression may be the Wolf, who isn't so much a wolf as a whiskered Johnny Depp in a slightly furry zoot suit.

Despite Depp's love of bold characterization and Disney's love of Depp, the Wolf's role is surprisingly just as small here as it is on stage. That eliminated Depp from Golden Globe contention, no matter how much the Globes love the guy (they've nominated him ten times before, most recently and questionably for 2010's duo of Alice in Wonderland and The Tourist). Even without Depp, the Globes were the award show where Into the Woods had its greatest chance to shine. As a musical comedy, its Musical or Comedy designation is the rare one that can prompt no disputes. That significantly lightened the competition, though not enough to prevent defeat at the hands of The Grand Budapest Hotel rather than eventual Oscar king Birdman.

2013 seemed certain to produce the first live-action Disney-branded Best Picture Oscar nominee since Mary Poppins half a century ago. Then, Saving Mr. Banks surprisingly missed the cut and wound up with only an Original Score nomination. A year later, Disney should have known better than to expect to crack the Best Picture field. Though some expected otherwise, Woods did not earn a Best Picture nomination and doesn't seem to have even come close. At the same time, the film as expected did manage to compete in a couple of technical categories, earning nods for Costume Design and Production Design. It also, as forecast, added to Streep's now nineteen Oscar nominations, long an all-time record. She showed up in the Best Supporting Actress category, where she won her first of three statuettes to date, but lost to little surprise.

Nominating Streep may be a knee-jerk reaction for the Academy, but if anyone in this large ensemble cast deserves recognition from the industry's highest honors, it is her. It is a big character requiring a big performance, which Streep is more than willing to give it. She may not come from musical theatre (though she did spend two months in 1977 starring in a Broadway musical) and some questioned her singing abilities in Mamma Mia! But Streep is the real deal, as big a female movie star as any in Hollywood but still a serious and highly talented actor. She could approach this job as one for the grandchildren which she does not yet have, a hefty paycheck to do some of the broad costumed acting that Depp has embraced as the world's richest children's entertainer. That's not Streep's style. She commits fully to this witch, singing and dancing like she has been doing it her whole life and likely winning over the most devoted Bernadette Peters fans in the process.

One, two princes whine before you. That's what I said now.

Streep isn't the only member of this ensemble who impresses. Blunt and Corden, who were campaigned as leads, are compelling and sympathetic as the film's most human characters. It doesn't seem to matter that Corden is a veteran of London and New York's stage while Blunt has increasingly become a leading lady of sci-fi action films. Each sells the material convincingly and makes you overlook that casting them as a couple is like the starting point of a CBS sitcom. Kendrick has already proven her ability to carry a tune in Pitch Perfect and its Billboard-charting "Cups." She stifles any impulse to upstage, but relishes the few minor opportunities to acknowledge the ridiculous nature of the composite fairy tale narrative, which is for the most part treated seriously and without the nod-wink irony of the stage show.

Just when he seemed destined to be classified as more serviceable actor than star, Chris Pine becomes one of the cast's most surprising bright spots. His performance drew by far the biggest reaction of my theatrical screening,
with the princes' number "Agony" producing howls of laughter over most of it (and not the snarky kind that Pierce Brosnan and Russell Crowe inspired). The crowd's enthusiasm seemed excessive, but it was one of the few places where the large theater audibly responded to the film.

It was tough to gauge how the film would play with audiences, particularly those who come in not knowing the stage show on which it's based and perhaps expecting something more like a big screen, big budget version of ABC's "Once Upon a Time." Certainly, Disney has done better than anyone else in the business when it comes to fairy tales. That their most Broadway-ready animated musical to date, Frozen, just recently closed its long run with a worldwide gross of $1.3 billion boded well for this film. It was considerably more realistic, however, to assume Disney expected a performance more in line with Les Mis' $159 M domestic, $442 M worldwide haul from two years earlier. Such a showing would be highly profitable in light of the movie's reasonable reported $50 M production budget and enough to justify this film's existence as an anomaly in the current brand-driven, franchise-minded Disney business model.

Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) wishes to go to the festival.

Amidst fierce competition, Into the Woods performed fairly well domestically, falling short of benchmarks like Les Mis, Mamma Mia!, and Marshall's Chicago, but its $127 M gross landing on par with Hairspray and Enchanted, ignoring seven years of inflation. At home, it did outperform most of the holiday season competition, including Annie, Unbroken, the final Night at the Museum, and all major Oscar contenders except American Sniper. While critics liked Woods all right, the general public definitely did not, if we are to put any stock in the film's unusually low and fast-dropping 6.2 user rating on IMDb. (By comparison, Marshall's much-maligned Nine sits with a 5.9 and has done so since stabilizing in mid-2011.) The biggest complaint on the message boards there seems to be that people entered not knowing this was a musical and based on a stage show, which places blame on both marketing and their own lack of research.

Oddly, despite the film's high profile and PG-rating, Disney forgoes the usual combo pack dynamic for Into the Woods releasing it in separate DVD and Blu-ray editions, only the latter of which is equipped with Digital HD.

Into the Woods Blu-ray + Digital HD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.39:1 Widescreen
7.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Thai), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, English, French, Spanish, Thai, Indonesian, Korean, Malay, Portuguese, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: March 24, 2015
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $38.99
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($29.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video


Even if you're one of the people voting down Into the Woods on IMDb, you've got to admit the movie looks nice. The Blu-ray's lavish 2.39:1 visuals are sharp and flawless, maintaining the cloudy blue-gray look of theatrical exhibition. The 7.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is every bit as excellent too. It presents music, dialogue, and effects in a crisp and enveloping fashion without the peaks and valleys you might fear. Disney provides an unusually high number of dubs and subtitles, perhaps aiming to give this release the global appeal that incomplete box office numbers suggest the movie lacked in theaters.

The rejuvenated Witch (Meryl Streep) sings "She'll Be Back", a Sondheim song written for the film but deleted. Rob Marshall directs Lilla Crawford and Johnny Depp on the set of "Into the Woods."


Watch a clip from the Witch's deleted song "She'll Be Back":

The Blu-ray's all-HD extras begin with something that should be of great interest to anyone fond of the film. Introduced by director Rob Marshall,
"Streep Sings Sondheim: She'll Be Back" (4:48) gives us the Witch's song written for Meryl Streep by Stephen Sondheim, filmed, and then deleted in the interests of pacing. What could have contended for Original Song awards ends up a bonus feature of obvious and considerable value. It is a treat to see and that act confirms what the filmmakers have said: that both the song and Streep's performance have merit, just not enough to extend the movie.

More conventional bonuses begin with "There's Something About the Woods" (13:23), a featurette that considers the setting's significance, the title song, and lighting and costumes.

"The Cast as Good as Gold" (10:10) lets the actors talk about their parts (and Tracey Ullman repeatedly about the cow she worked with), while Marshall speaks to the casting process and how pleased he was with it.

The titular woods didn't build themselves for this film. "The Costumes of the Woods" gives us a closer look at the Wolf's furry zoot suit.

Next comes Deeper Into the Woods, a section comprised of four featurettes not topical enough to explain their division. Ending with credits blocks, these featurettes are things you can easily imagine being published online as promotion. They probably were.

"From Stage to Screen" (8:33) offers a basic overview of the adaptation, touching upon some changes made. "The Magic of the Woods" (7:24) turns our attention back to technical facets, from sound mixing the music to plain old editing.
"Designing the Woods" (7:07) elaborates on the manufacturing of the forest set (touched on in "There's Something..."), with looks at the large soundstage and real location filming. Finally, "The Costumes of the Woods" (6:53) lets the much-decorated Colleen Atwood and others discuss the clothes and style of each character, with a bit of hair and make-up consideration as well.

A feature audio commentary is supplied by director Rob Marshall and producers John DeLuca and Marc Platt. Reflecting their background in musical theatre, they are very focused on the way things look and the pageantry of it all. They acknowledge the leading actors' input into their costumes and make-up, identify real filming locations and reflect on their time there, address certain changes from the play, and comment on the cast's experiences with singing, particularly those who entered without much experience. Though a bit less engaging than you might hope, the track does have some insight, even if you may grow tired of hearing how this is such a post-9/11 fairy tale.

Finally, a Music & Lyrics section offers what you typically find from a Disney Song Selection area. It lets you watch any of the film's 17 musical numbers on their own with song lyrics above them. There is also the chance to watch them all, creating a version of the film entirely out of musical numbers (which is much of it). Finally, you can watch the entire movie, but with lyric subtitles playing over the songs. They're all pretty standard features, but welcome ones you don't always get from musicals.

There are at least five short Easter eggs hidden on the disc, only one of which I found by menu. Running 25 seconds to a minute and a half, they provide behind-the-scenes footage from filming: the Witch climbing Rapunzel's long braid (which is real hair, the commentary tells us), Cinderella's stepmother and stepsisters fending off crows that will be added in postproduction, Cinderella tripping and falling onto a mat, Jack climbing the beanstalk, and the Witch blowing in the wind and rising for "Last Midnight."

The DVD edition, which does not accompany the Blu-ray, only includes the four Deeper Into the Woods featurettes.

The disc opens with a Disney Movies Anywhere promo and trailers for Tomorrowland and Aladdin: Diamond Edition. The Sneak Peeks listing doesn't repeat those, instead playing promos for Disney Movie Rewards, "Once Upon a Time", The Lion King musical, and Disney Channel's upcoming Descendants.

The menu moves across a wood with characters striking their poster poses while score plays. The Blu-ray isn't designed to resume playback, but does remember where you left off in the film if you couldn't finish it.

Topped by an embossed, holographic cardboard slipcover that expands the keepcase's gold banner into a full-fledged border, the side-snapped keepcase holds a booklet with your Disney Movie Rewards/digital copy code and an ad for the Disney Movie Club.

Johnny Depp fans have to settle for a small dose of Johnny Depp as the Big Bad Wolf who is determined to prey upon Little Red Riding Hood.


Into the Woods doesn't make the smoothest transition to film, losing some of its theatrical charm and irony in the process. Still, this musical fairy tale makes for an entertaining experience by embodying those two forms fully and artfully while putting its talented cast to very good use.

Disney's Blu-ray offers dynamite picture and sound plus a good if somewhat repetitive assembly of extras, most exciting of which is the deleted original song. No better edition of this is coming anytime soon, so your decision to rent or buy comes down to your opinion or impression of a movie that won't work for non-theatre lovers and may even disappoint that picky demographic as well.

Buy Into the Woods from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + Digital HD • DVD • Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Into the Woods (Original Broadway Production Blu-ray)
New: Annie (2014) • Big Hero 6 • Top Five • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (10th Anniversary)
Music by Stephen Sondheim: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street • Gypsy • Dick Tracy
Directed by Rob Marshall: Chicago • Nine • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Meryl Streep: The Giver • August: Osage County • Doubt • Marvin's Room | James Corden: Begin Again
Emily Blunt: Edge of Tomorrow • The Muppets • Gulliver's Travels | Tracey Ullman: Once Upon a Mattress
Tangled • Enchanted • Ella Enchanted • Frozen • Once Upon a Time: The Complete First Season
Dreamgirls • Newsies • Mary Poppins • The Sound of Music • Oliver! • Funny Girl
Jack the Giant Slayer • The Brothers Grimm • Cinderella • Red Riding Hood • Alice in Wonderland (2010)

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Reviewed March 23, 2015.

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