I never really cared for "Into the Woods." Until I watched this screen adaptation. And now I love it! Sondheim's genius rings clearly through his constant flow of lyrics in this overwhelming presentation of artistic design, special effects, talented singing voices, and impressive acting. From the first lines of the 15-minute Prologue, I knew that this film would be magic. My largest criticism of the show has been a lack of catchy songs that stick in your head, but the music translates better in this production than in the 1991 stage recording. "No One Is Alone," "Giants In The Sky," "I Know Things Now," "Stay With Me," "Any Moment," "Agony" - they are all so great. Dare I say that I'm going to buy this soundtrack ASAP? These songs have me in the mood to go watch "Sweeney Todd" right now. Rob Marshall and Disney faced a big challenge in making this film accessible to a diverse audience while preserving the original story and style, but they struck a balance of capturing the essence of "Into the Woods" while keeping it PG. I was so happy to see that Sondheim and Lapine gave their blessing to adapt this story into a more family-friendly version, and even helped Disney to do it! The elimination of the affairs will make it easier for parents to share this with their children. It isn't as extreme as the original but it's still one of the most interesting fairy tale mashups ever. I also feel that the exclusion of a few songs and several reprises was wise. It felt like the longest 2-hour movie of my life, as is the nature of a film with such an intense flow of melodic dictation (especially when you aren't familiar with the music), but any longer and I may have started wanting it to end. The artistry of this film transports us into a stunning fairy tale world and it has a shot at Best Production Design. The costumes are incredible and the scenery makes the woods more mysterious than ever. But the true magic comes from the acting. This production was so perfectly cast that the characters jump right off of the screen. Anna Kendrick will steal your heart in the role of Cinderella. The timbre of her voice is fantastic and she really taps into the insecurity of this character, all while perfectly looking the part. I am not very familiar with James Corden but his comedy is a great match for the Baker. He has great chemistry with Emily Blunt, who brings warmth to the Baker's Wife and turned this into my favorite of her performances. Meryl Streep makes us all think "she is the best ever," as usual. It seems as if any role that she plays is automatically considered for an Oscar nomination, and there is nothing unreasonable about that. I wasn't buying her nomination at first, but her transformation and "Last Midnight" sealed the deal. Every vocalist is just so good, especially Lilla Crawford (Little Red Riding Hood) and Daniel Huttlestone (Jack, and played Gavroche in "Les Mis"). Autotune is inevitable in a movie with this much singing (90% of which was recorded before shooting), but I was still blown away. You know that it was amazing when I don't even have time to mention Johnny Depp and Chris Pine. Whenever a big production company decides to put a well-known story onto the big screen, you have to question whether they will get it right or if we'll be seeing another attempt in a few years. I am confident that we will never see another movie version of "Into the Woods" - they captured it perfectly.
[Pictured: Anna Kendrick continues to become a brighter and brighter star]