Sondheim’s Broadway Hit Gets The Film Treatment Via Rob Marshall To Uneven Effect. Emily Blunt & James Corden Shine But This Overlong Musical Suffers From A Final Act That Completely Sets The Whole Affair Off Kilter.
There’s little doubt that everyone involved with this project had a blast making it. The hyper fantastic setting and souped up fairy tale in a blender story combined with the music of Stephen Sondheim is sure fire cannon fodder for the big screen. Armed with Rob Marshall (Chicago, Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Nine) in the directors seat and a talent pool including Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine, Johnny Depp, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski and James Corden to headline, it’s a pretty exciting prospect in anyone’s eyes. Add to that the huge broadway following the show already has and all the boxes are ticked for a sure fire hit, right? I’ve no doubt it will open to huge numbers and bank a huge global gross but there’s just something that feels a bit off kilter about the whole thing.
In a fairy tale kingdom where Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) & The Beanstalk and Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) all exist, a village baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) long for a child of their very own. Enter the witch (Meryl Streep) who lives next door who sends them on a quest to fetch her 4 items to break a curse and give them a child. They must collect a cow as white as snow, hair the colour of corn, a shoe mode of gold and a cloak as red as blood and return them to the witch by midnight of the blue moon which occurs in 3 days. So off into the woods they go to find these items and change their future! This all happens while the classic fairy tale stories all kick off and these characters all meet.
As this 124 minute epic is about 98% singing, Marshall is no stranger to navigating the discipline required to balance the belting vocals with action to keep the whole thing animated and he does so by allowing his big name cast ham it up as best they can. Given it’s Sondheim there is a fairly recognisable song structure throughout, many of the songs sound exactly the same (especially in the choral sections) where his trademark overlapping vocal comes into play, which will keep fans of the stage show tapping along. Bright moments occur in the films highlight ‘Agony’ (performed by Chris Pine & Billy Magnusson) and ‘It’s Your Fault’ (A multi player) yet something seems amiss in the film..
From a cinematic point of view, the film is far too long. Having not seen Into The Woods on stage I am assuming where I would’ve ended the film is the intermission point, from there I would’ve made the final act into a stand alone film. Into The Woods runs at a certain comedic whimsy beat to a point then completely switches gear for the last 30 minutes into a much darker and seemingly unfitting final coda. The problem is that the resolutions the film tries to deliver at the end are coming from set ups that really aren’t fully explored for us in the first place. The relationship between The Witch & Rapunzel, Jack & The Giants, The Prince & His Infidelities, The Baker & His Father, Cinderella & The Birds, Little Red Riding Hood & Her Grandmother, The Witch & Her Powers – there’s so much going on yet none of them get the screen time to really have a lasting impact. This show could have easily been split into two 90 minute films and done both the main plot and this sub plot justice.
Performances are all suitably hammy but it’s Emily Blunt and James Corden that steal the movie. They are really having fun with this and it shows. Meryl is ok but nothing Oscar worthy as it is being touted. Chris Pine does Captain Kirk posturing with bonus singing and Johnny Depp revels as The Wolf. Tracey Ullman brings a nice touch as Jack’s Mother, her comedy chops still as sharp as ever and the younger cast are all belting singers.
Into The Woods just feels off kilter, especially when it hits the final act where the whole show changes direction and drags the fun down. It’s no easy task bringing such a show to the screen, trying to cram so much content into a 2 hour flick is a feat all of its own and I can’t help but think if they’d split it into two spectacular films and spent some time delving into the characters a bit more the result would’ve been something with substance.
INTO THE WOODS releases on JANUARY 8, 2015 in AUSTRALIA through DISNEY