Directed by Rob Marshall
Starring James Corden, Emily Blunt, Meryl Streep
Two of the most powerful words in fairytales. They have brought low kings, turned scullery maids to princesses and made sultans from thieves.
To break a curse placed on their house by a neighbouring witch (Meryl Streep) a baker and his wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt) enter the woods to find a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, a slipper as pure as gold. Along their way they meet other fairytale characters that have gone into the woods in pursuit of their own wishes, but soon discover that the woods are a dangerous place and happiness may not be for ever after.
Whereas the last adaptation of a Sondheim musical (Sweeney Todd) was very much the product of the director rather than the lyricist (with Tim Burton’s trademark visual style and traditional stable of actors), Rob Marshall (Chicago) seems more willing to take a back seat, allowing the work to speak for itself. For those unfamiliar, Into The Woods will present a fairytale world where the rules are not exactly as the storybooks would have us believe. For those that are familiar with the stage musical, it is a fairly close adaptation from a rather unexpected source, considering the plot undercuts the more traditional telling of the stories made popular by Disney.
Into The Woods takes great glee in subverting the genre. It returns the tales to their darker more sinister roots, while giving it a modern interpretation. Therefore transgressions may be harshly (and arbitrarily) punished, charming may not necessarily mean sincere, and “happily ever after” may be as impossible as any other wish.
While it may lack a show-stopping musical number that will be stuck in your head for days, what it does have is intelligent, witty, dark and subversive lyrics. Be that Cinderella’s vacillation on the palace steps, or a wangst-off between two princes (Chris Pine goes the full Shatner to produce a comic highlight), or Red Riding Hood’s curious lamentation for the wolf. It has a verve and vibrancy that, although unsustainable for the entirety of its running time, does sustain during the third act as the tone gets substantively grim.
Into The Woods brings a stellar cast to the proceedings including a gleefully scenery chewing performance by Meryl Streep, a creepy cameo by Johnny Depp (in a performance that will launch a thousand cosplays), and Chris Pine cutting loose with hammy charm. It is, however, James Corden and Emily Blunt that anchor this film. It is their performances that provide most of the narrative drive, and they are both of somewhat unexpected good voice with great onscreen chemistry.
A clever and entertaining retelling of childhood tales. The woods may be darker than expected, but equally as enchanting and magical.