Well, sure it is – the award winning musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. The recently released Image Entertainment Blu-ray is a chronicle of the original Broadway show that was shown on PBS stations back in 1990. The recent film version, from Walt Disney, is also a musical. Why do I have to state this? Because none of the Disney trailers that I saw had any singing in them. Many people thought it was another typical Disney fairy tale rendition and boy were they surprised. Look at the reviews on Amazon and you can read a veritable tempest of polarized reviews. Disney apparently just didn’t know what to do
with it. Here director Rob Marshall handed them a knockout, amazing, fantastic, beautiful version of the show, but apparently the execs who market these things didn’t think it would sell, perhaps brainstorming that audiences could be enticed to the theater and find out that oh, well, it was a musical. This is not entirely honest, but I doubt it was done with malice. I’m a huge Sondheim fan but don’t think people should be tricked into liking his brilliant shows. They stand on their own.
All of this clear and in the open now, I have to say that the movie is brilliant. It’s the best transference of a musical to movie that I have ever seen. The sets are opened up, the special effects are more polished, but the essence of the show is still there. Several fairy tales are smashed together as a baker and his wife go into the woods to find the cape as red as blood (LIttle Red Riding Hood), the cow as white as milk (Jack and his beanstalk), the hair as yellow as corn (Rapunzel) and the slipper like gold (Cinderella). There are some cuts but they are pluses and tighten the show up considerably. One big difference is that
Jack and Riding Hood are played by actual children (on stage they are usually played by young adults). Everyone sings and acts marvelously. As the witch, Meryl Streep is a wonder. She can really sing. Is there nothing this woman can’t do? Chris Pine is a nice surprise as Cinderella’s prince and Johnny Depp appropriately sleazy as the wolf. Both sing well. The rest of the cast is near perfect.
The Broadway version lacks the luster of a movie and as it is filmed, it doesn’t have the impact it could. But it does have the original witch, Bernadette Peters, who is quite different from Streep, but no less worthy. It also has two magnificent vocal princes, and many other outstanding singing actors. The special effects would have looked great in the theater, but they pale a bit on video. The audio is merely two channel stereo (the film version has magnificent DTS 7.1 Master Audio)
Parents are advised to screen the film version before showing it to small children! The film is rated PG for fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive action. I assume the latter applies mainly to the wolf and Riding Hood scene, which surely has sexual overtones. Whether these will go over the heads of your little munchkins is up to you and them. The Disney Blu-ray, by the way, has a lot of production featurettes and a full length screen commentary, plus film of an extra song Sondheim wrote for Streep that was deleted at the last moment.