Rating: 3.5 stars
When I went Into the Woods, I sure did have a big surprise. An all-star cast singing their hearts out and fighting for their not-so-happily-ever-afters. The film is the latest release of the new trend to reinvent classic fairytales, with this particular one taking on four of the Brothers Grimm stories; Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood.
Adapted from the 1986 musical written by Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods tells the tragic tale of a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) who are desperate to have a child but can’t due to a curse put on them by an evil witch (Meryl Streep). The curse will only be broken if they bring the witch; a cow as white as milk, hair as gold as corn, a cape as red as blood and a slipper as pure as gold.
On their quest they meet Little Red Riding Hood (Lillia Crawford) on her way to visit her grandmother, Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), the orphaned house servant who’s wish is to go to the King’s festival but is stopped by her bully of a stepmother and her two daughters, Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), who is locked in a tower by the witch, and finally, Jack, (Daniel Huttlestone) who is heading to town to sell his cow.
Originally I was given the impression that the film’s cluttered cast may confuse and muddle the plot, as the opening scenes introduce us to the many characters with shots flicking from storyline to storyline whilst they sing about their wishes. However, the way they are eventually brought together is effortlessly done by Sondheim and co-writer James Lapine, and it was clear who I was siding with from early on. And Disney picked a great director, Rob Marshall, to fantastically transform the Broadway show just as he did with Chicago, managing to make the stage-to-screen adaptation feel cinematic whilst still maintaining the key aspects of the stage show.
As casting goes – this one is pretty spectacular. As the Witch, Streep provides us with a fantastic performance showing us the many sides to her character, from the evil villain I wanted defeated to the desperate and caring mother-figure I had sympathy for. Chris Pine lightens the darker points of the film with his hilarious interpretation of a camp and air-headed Prince Charming. And we mustn’t forget the cameo appearance by none other than Johnny Depp as the wolf, who of course manages to make his scenes as disturbing and Tim Burton-esque as he does best, giving it that Grimm-feel I was waiting for. But when watching, my heart was undoubtedly stuck with the loveable baker throughout the film, who kept me rooting for his victory from the start, giving British actor Corden the Hollywood moment he deserves.
The musical isn’t perfect though. It starts off better than it finishes, and I was left feeling slightly disappointed towards the ending with some of the most dramatic parts of the plot being overlooked, leaving a slight rushed feeling to the climaxes. The ending may work for the stage, but Marshall struggles to give the last act his magic touch, sadly preventing the film from being what could be an outstanding adaptation.
The cast however, continued to impress me with their musical gifts – especially Kendrick, who’s voice may have been heard in her role in Pitch Perfect, but this time there is an opportunity to really appreciate her amazing vocal talents. Prepare to cringe though as Depp gets the award for the creepiest solo ever, with a song about Little Red Riding that is full of innuendos and left me squirming in my seat. I wouldn’t expect to come out of the cinema humming any catchy tunes either – there’s no ‘Let It Go’ moment in this musical.
Into the Woods is still an excellent modern-take on Disney, it’s a real eye-opener of the dangers of getting what you wish for, and enforces the idea of choosing reality over fantasy rather than the fairytales we are used to. With an excellent cast and its ability to make me laugh as it mocks the original Disney conventions of happily-ever-after, it’s definitely worth a watch.
Into the Woods is currently being screened at Kingston Odeon.