Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Musical
Director: Rob Marshall
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, James Corden, Emily Blunt, Daniel Huttlestone, Tracy Ulman, Johnny Depp, Billy Magnussen, Mackenzie Mauzy, Lilla Crawford, Chris Pine
The acclaimed stage production about wish fulfilment in fairytales gets the big screen treatment by Rob Marshall. Marshall, no stranger to musicals having directed several including Annie (1999) and Chicago (2002), brings together well-known musical actors Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick and Johnny Depp, with lesser known (but still surprisingly good) talents James Corden, Emily Blunt and Chris Pine. Into the Woods is an interesting fairytale adventure, weaving the stories of Rapunzel, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk into the main storyline of a lowly baker and his wife, who are on a quest to remove a curse. Fascinating themes of parenthood, responsibility, and the moral consequences of getting what you wish for are nicely touched on throughout the film.
The musical genre is filled with “themed” films: Hairspray touched on the sixties; Mama Mia involved Abba songs, and Chicago was set in the roaring 20’s. Into the Woods remains true to its Broadway roots with a lot of the dialogue and monologues being delivered in song, for example the opening number ‘Prologue: Into the woods’. While most of the songs don’t have very individual sounds there are a few standouts. In ‘Hello little girl’ Depp is mesmerising as the Big Bad Wolf, and gives the scene a Sweeney Todd level of creepiness as he tries to lure Little Red Riding Hood away from the trail. Pine and Magnussen liven things up with ‘Agony’, evoking a feeling of the over-the-top nature of drunken Karaoke with mates. Meryl Streep chills with her crazed, psychotic witch, but reveals a tender, motherly side with ‘Stay with me’.
Like book-to-screen adaptations, cinematic versions of stage shows can’t always translate over word for word (or song for song in musicals), there will always be a need for some changes in order to translate well with the audience. Grease changed some of their songs to be more up tempo such as ‘You’re the One That I Want’, which consequently made it one of the most loved soundtracks of all time. On the other side of the spectrum are those films in which nothing is altered from the original production, as was the case in the film adaptation of Rent (2002), which kept the cast members from the original Broadway production of 1996. The film lacked the energy of a live audience, and it didn’t help that the stars had aged from when they originally played those characters.
Though for the most part Into the Woods stays true to the stage production, due to the condensed running time of the film, minor characters’ storylines are shortened, such as Rapunzel’s story where the maddening effect of being brought up in a tower is not touched on at all. Similarly the baker’s father’s role as a guide is diluted to just a flashback and an Obi-Wan’s-ghost-type moment, while the caddish behaviour of the princes is also toned down considerably, with only one of the two actually being depicted as a Lothario. Being a Disney movie it doesn’t seem all that surprising that some of the darker aspects of the story are swept under the rug, but the result is that the second half of the film leaves characters unfinished and somewhat untouched by the consequences of their actions.
While it is interesting to see a darker, more ‘adult’ version of a fairytale musical, it is still a little innocent in its Disney-fied take on the production. Whereas the first act is engaging and entertaining in its songs and energy, the second act, exploring the cost of getting exactly what you wish for, falls a little flat with character development not quite hitting the moral tone evenly across the field.
2 ½ stars.