The Watchers

The Watchers

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Review: Into The Woods (UK Cert PG)

Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's fairy-tale mash-up Into The Woods was first produced in 1986 and a movie version has been on the table since the early 1990s. But it's director Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine) that has brought this musical masterpiece to the big screen.

A vengeful witch has put a curse of childlessness upon a Baker and his Wife. To lift the spell, he must find four fairytale artefacts- the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold- and bring them back in three days' time. Meanwhile, Cinderella wants to go to the ball, Jack has to sell the family cow, and a little girl in a red cape must bring bread to Grandmother's house. All of them must go into the woods... But who will live happily ever after?

Because it has a PG rating in the UK, and is a Disney film, the trailers before the film were all for animated kids' movies. Make no mistake, this isn't a happy-go-lucky, fluffy, kid-friendly musical. It's very dark in places- death, infidelity and darkness abound, especially in the second half of the film- and the adult themes of some of the musical numbers might not be too appropriate for younger children. That said, there's a lot of fun to be had here.

Meryl Streep plays The Witch and is the main focus of most of the advertising (despite the character being very much a supporting one in the grand scheme of things). This is the first time Meryl Streep has ever played a witch, and you can see she's having an absolute ball. It's a high camp performance but she absolutely sells it, especially in the Witch's final song, a triumphant screw-you entitled 'Last Midnight' where she leaves an emperilled band of characters to their bickering. An absolutely delightful performance.

Anna Kendrick (who has proven her vocal talents in Camp and Pitch Perfect) makes for a great Cinderella, yearning for a different life then finding out it's not quite what she had planned. Emily Blunt is great as the Baker's Wife, providing an emotional anchor for most of the film. James Corden is a bit wooden on times as the Baker and sometimes struggles to sell the performance but it's decent enough.Chris Pine channels his inner Shatner to play Cinderella's Prince and has a nice tongue-in-cheek duet with Rapunzel's Prince (Billy Magnussen) called 'Agony' about his love for the mysterious stranger at the ball. However, a man raised to be 'charming, not sincere' can be trouble and his wandering eye soon causes issues.

Finally, Johnny Depp vamps it up as The Wolf, channelling the 1940s Tex Avery cartoons. This is where I run into a problem. The Wolf attempts to waylay Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford, who starts off as a little annoying but mellows as the film progresses) and there are some, frankly, rather pervy comments in his song 'Hello, Little Girl' (especially one about 'scrumptious carnality'). They've cast a 13-year-old girl as Red so the whole thing feels a little bit wrong. Depp earns his 'and' credit, in the film for barely five minutes.  

The film looks sumptuous, so praise should go to cinematographer Dion Beebe, as well as the costume, make-up and production design teams. As an adaptation of the musical, it's quite faithful although several of the musical numbers have been excised, a few roles have been changed (the notable one is the omission of the Narrator, whose role is filled by Corden) and a few of the outcomes have been altered- and some of the deaths made more palatable. The rougher edges have been taken off, but the central message is still there - fairytales are not always nicey-nicey stories, they're often cautionary tales about behaving badly or contrary to societal norms.  They're also quite barbaric (hinted at in the fate of Cinderella's Ugly Sisters who suffer the same fate as the original story). 

On the whole, a few moments of weirdness aside, I thoroughly enjoyed Into The Woods. Sondheim fans will no doubt have an opinion on the veracity of the adaptation, but it's worth seeing for the stellar performances of Streep, Kendrick and Blunt and a couple of damn good musical numbers.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5


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