Into the Woods

Genre: Musical

Director: Rob Marshall

Screenplay: James Lapine, based on the musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine

Cast: Anna Kendrick, Daniel Huttlestone, James Corden, Emily Blunt, Christine Baranski, Tammy Blanchard, Lucy Punch, Tracey Ullman, Lilla Crawford, Meryl Streep, Simon Ruddell Beale, Joanna Riding, Johnny Depp, Billy Magnussen, Mackenzie Mauzy, Annette Crosbie, Chris Pine, Richard Glover, Frances de la Tour

Running Length: 124 minutes

Synopsis: Into the Woods is a modern twist on the beloved Brothers Grimm fairy tales, intertwining the plots of a few choice stories and exploring the consequences of the characters’ wishes and quests. The musical follows the classic tales of Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Jack and the Beanstalk (Daniel Huttlestone), and Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy)—all tied together by an original story involving a baker and his wife (James Corden & Emily Blunt), their wish to begin a family and their interaction with the witch (Meryl Streep) who has put a curse on them.

Review: Although it may seem like a kid-friendly movie – after all, it’s a mashup of Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella and Rapunzel – Into the Woods is anything but. Adapted from Stephen Sondheim’s 1986 musical, there has been some modifications to the tale (unsurprising, given it’s Disney releasing the film and the story features a bunch of Disney Princesses), but the story is still a dark, albeit comical one. Rob Marshall has won acclaim previously for directing a stage-to-screen musical (Chicago), and although Into the Woods is perfectly serviceable as an adaptation, there’s no real wow factor in the transition, despite the star-studded cast.

Although I believe that Meryl Streep is likely to get her 19th Oscar nomination for her role as the witch (her singing is, surprisingly, quite decent), she’s not the focal point of the movie. And despite once again displaying her formidable talent in singing, neither is Anna Kendrick’s turn as Cinderella, which is honestly quite a bland, dispirited performance. It is Emily Blunt and James Corden who form the emotional centre of the film, and Blunt especially impresses, managing to steal the limelight from anyone sharing her scenes (yes, even Streep) and having a nice enough singing voice to complement her acting chops. Chris Pine also deserves a special mention for his extremely exuberant performance as Prince Charming.

This is Rob Marshall’s third movie musical, and yet the director still shows little flair in translating stage to screen. Although already more expansive than both Chicago and Nine’s stage-bound setpieces, Into the Woods still feels somewhat claustrophobic despite its woods settings, with little visual invention. That is, except the excellent “Agony” sequence, which sees Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen unabashedly hamming it up in what is essentially a medieval MTV. If more of Into the Woods was filmed in the same vein, it would definitely have stood out from the rest of the pack.

In other aspects, the film generally fares well. Art direction and production design (particularly the costumes) are well done, and most of the CG effects are acceptable, apart from the really lackluster work on the giantess. One could assume that Disney picked up on this adaption because it is a reimagining of its own Disney Princesses franchise (Snow White and Sleeping Beauty were however excluded from the film version, ostensibly because their appearance in the musical wasn’t the most family friendly, if you catch my drift), much like how it greenlit the live action Maleficent. However, while Maleficent is a far more imaginative work, Into the Woods is just a rudimentary adaptation that thankfully still manages to entertain.

Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)

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