Disney’s “Into the Woods” offers a modern take on timeless tales

Disney’s “Into the Woods” hits theaters on Dec. 25. The film features a musical reimagining of Grimm’s fairytales. 

Waylon Sternhagen

“Into the Woods”, a popular musical that has been staged everywhere from Broadway to Stephens Auditorium, is coming to the big screen this Christmas.

Directed by Rob Marshall, the film offers a fresh take on the well-known and beloved fairytales of the “Brothers Grimm.” The stories of “Cinderella,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Rapunzel” are intertwined in a musical and often humorous fashion as a baker and his wife try to break a witch’s curse.

The film features an all-star cast, including Meryl Streep, the witch, Johnny Depp, the wolf, Tracey Ullman, Jack’s mother, and Emily Blunt, the baker’s wife, among others. 

According to stars Anna Kendrick and Chris Pine, who play Cinderella and her Prince, respectively, the film offered members of the cast an opportunity to put their own spin on characters that children and adults across the world have known for centuries.

Pine’s Prince is not exactly the flawless hunk with whom many viewers are familiar — he may be charming, but he is not perfect. 

“Everybody in this film goes through these really wonderful complex journeys and they experience joy, heartache, sorrow and grief. My prince is just way more two-dimensional than that and is kind of wonderfully self-absorbed,” Pine said. “I had a lot of fun bringing some levity to the picture and there’s a bit of a buffoon in the prince.”

Likewise, Kendrick’s Cinderella breaks the mold of the fairytale princess often seen in Disney films in a way that will resonate with many female moviegoers. 

“Since these stories kind of belong to the ages, it makes sense that in some ways we update them every generation,” Kendrick said. “One thing [director Rob Marshall] allowed me to do was to be a sort of overthinking, over-logical, neurotic princess. I think modern women have a tendency to overthink everything, and they don’t trust their gut. We have to look at everything from every angle and find the right decision.”

“She’s doing that [for] the entire piece until something that she really has to reckon with happens. When the community is in crisis, suddenly it’s very clear for her what’s important.”

Though Pine can certainly sing, as evidenced by his rendition of “Someday Came Today” in 2010’s “Small Town Saturday Night” and an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” earlier this year, the world of musical theater was a bit outside his comfort zone. 

“It was a lot of fun and it was totally different than what I’ve done before,” Pine said. “The musical theater genre is very specific and the sound is that you’re going obviously very different than something like the country music I did before.”

Kendrick, who has appeared in Broadway musicals (“High Society”) and stars in the popular musical film series “Pitch Perfect,” was happy to tackle the film’s music for the chance to sing the work of acclaimed composer Stephen Sondheim. 

“We’re singing pop music in ‘Pitch Perfect’ and we’re singing Sondheim in this,” Kendrick said. “I was petrified and excited, and it was an unbelievable challenge. But obviously singing Sondheim is so rewarding and so fulfilling. It was just a dream come true.”

While some might be quick to dismiss a Disney film about fairytales as kid’s stuff, Kendrick said there are lessons in the picture for grownups to take away too. 

“I think that thematically the whole piece is about parents and children and the disappointments and the failings of parents,” Kendrick said. “There’s the element where it’s pure fantasy and it’s exciting for kids and then there’s the element that’s really specifically centered toward parents, which is why we have to be careful what we tell our children and children take lessons to heart.”

“It’s sort of about understanding that they are listening to us even if it doesn’t feel that way. And it’s up to us to prepare them for the reality of the world.”