The tentative 21st century rebirth of the movie musical has been one step forward, two steps back. But Rob Marshall, who directed a commercially successful example in Chicago and a misconceived dud in Nine, hits a sweet spot between cinematic and theatrical with his captivating film of Into the Woods. This twisty fairy-tale mash-up shows an appreciation for the virtues of old-fashioned storytelling, along with a welcome dash of subversive wit. It benefits from respect for the source material, enticing production values and a populous gallery of sharp character portraits from a delightful cast.
Its skeptical view of happy endings makes this release a tricky fit for the holiday family niche. But Disney should do nicely over the long haul with a classy film that will entertain youth audiences yet contains enough sly humor and narrative complexity to keep adults engaged.