Director: Rob Marshall
Starring: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Johnny Depp, Tracey Ullman
Written by: (also musical) James Lapine and (musical) Stephen Sondheim
Running time: 125 mins
Release date: 9th January 2015
Take one of Broadway’s foremost musical king’s shows, with Disney backing and directed by the man responsible for Chicago, filling it with an impressive cast led by the Queen of Hollywood and you should have cinematic gold. Unfortunately, we get a film of fits and starts that heads towards a dull finale.
The stories of Cinderella, Jack And The Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood are linked together with a baker and his wife’s wanting a child, not realising that they are cursed by a witch. She offers them the chance to remove the curse if they bring back certain items from the other stories. So they all head off into the woods…
Director Rob Marshall, who did such a good job transferring Chicago to the screen, is the perfect man to bring Stephen Sondheim’s impossibly difficult musical to cinema audiences. On the whole, he does a very good job. The production looks slick, capturing a weird mix of Gothic mystery with a darkly fairy tale feel, it immediately sets the scene that this isn’t going to be all light and fluffy.
Marshall also has a keen ear for the music and uses it to cut and interweave the characters, working best in the opening number as the main protagonists share the complexity of the Into The Woods song. Yet these moments are few and far between and as the film settles in, the camera spends long time lingering on the solo artists much longer than they should, slowing the pacing down, in danger of making the film drag.
The performances are a mix bag too. Meryl Streep as the witch, has the most fun, going full pantomime villain with her wild blue hair and even wilder eyes. This is a stronger musical performance than that of her previous singing outing, Mamma Mia, belting out the songs as if she’s never sung before and yet capturing every note perfectly. Her appearances lighten up the screen.
As does Emily Blunt, in a much more controlled performance as the Baker’s wife, yet she infuses humour with a sense of innocence and wide-eyed wonderment. James Corden, who is so much better when he’s contained, does a good job as the Baker, yet Anna Kendrick’s as Cinderella has the vocal talent but seemed somewhat bland, as did Chris Pine as the Prince, who looks like he longs to be in The Princess Bride than a musical.
Where the film’s problems lie is in the show itself. There is no denying that Sondheim is a master of the musical and his songs are tricky, complex mixes of rhythm and tone. Yet here, they don’t excite. There’s nothing to latch onto, to hum as you leave and as you listen to the cast doing their best, you really want one chirpy number that could become an ear worm.The score is loud and proud, yet here it’s as if the orchestra have turned everything up to 11 , so you don’t get any subtlety and the music becomes more of an intrusion.
However, the real downside is the story. The first act has plenty of fun, sparkle and the twisting of the tales, merging into each other,has tons of interesting moments. Once we believe everyone has found their happy ever after, and the plot twists, it runs out of steam and the fun is drained from the proceedings. It then becomes somewhat tiresome and your eyes wander towards your watch.
Fans of Sondheim will probably love it and there are plenty to enjoy, yet Into The Woods doesn’t have enough to make it the masterpiece it really should have been. It leaves you wanting more but not in the best of ways.