Traditionally in fairytales, the bedraggled heroine wins her dashing prince, evil stepmothers get their comeuppance and abducted children escape the clutches of a witch by pushing the treacherous hag into her oven.
Nothing epitomises Happily Ever After like the heady aroma of roasting human flesh.
Into The Woods keeps turning the pages on these archetypal characters, imagining what might happen as they come to terms with their actions and – in most cases – suffer the repercussions.
Light comedy and heartrending tragedy skip hand in hand in James Lapine’s screenplay and Stephen Sondheim’s music and lyrics, which are ambrosia for director Rob Marshall, who propelled the 2002 film version of Chicago to Oscar glory.
This has nearly as much razzle dazzle including gorgeous costumes, picturesque sets and digitally enhanced magical effects.
Thankfully, Marshall tones down the swirling camerawork and snappy editing here, adopting a gentler rhythm, which is less exhausting on our eyes over two hours.
The Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) yearn for a child but cannot conceive.
The Witch (Meryl Streep) next door promises the couple a family if they bring her four objects before the blue moon: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold.
The Baker and his wife head into the woods with six magic beans and encounter 12-year-old Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), who is off to market to sell his cow Milky White, Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), who is fleeing from a ball thrown by a charming Prince (Chris Pine), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), who intends to visit her Granny (Annette Crosbie) but would make a tasty snack for the lascivious Wolf (Johnny Depp), and Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), who is consigned to a tower which can only be accessed by lowering her flaxen hair to a smitten lover (Billy Magnusson).
As the fated hour approaches, the childless couple resorts to desperate measures to collect the objects for the Witch.
Into The Woods establishes its mood with a dazzling overture, I Wish, elegantly introducing the characters before their fates begin to intersect.
Streep is typically spellbinding. Her voice soars and our hearts break in her solo to motherhood, Stay With Me.
Corden and Blunt add to the film’s emotional heft while Pine and Magnusson are hysterical as regal brothers in their chest-beating, thigh-slapping duet, Agony, atop a cascading waterfall.
With such a large cast to juggle, the script occasionally feels disjointed and some gear changes from broad pantomime to heartbreaking grief are jarring.
But Marshall doesn’t shy away from delivering bitter pills in the final act courtesy of a marauding giant (Frances de la Tour).
Everything has a price, especially your heart’s desire, so be careful what you wish for.