Director: Rob Marshall
Starring: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Johnny Depp
Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods first debuted on Broadway in 1987, predating the recent trend of revisionist fairytales by 20 years. It is a show which pushes back at the idea of happily ever-after. The whole point of the show is to explore what happens when real life kicks in and your wishes come true but everything is turning to shit. There was a great deal of angst from Sondheim fans at the announcement of the big screen adaptation of the play. Not only was the film being directed by Rob Marshall (whose first musical Chicago was well received and whose second Nine has the distinction of being Daniel Day-Lewis’ one shitty film), but it was being produced by Disney. Could Sondheim’s subversive and psychological fairy tale survive being produced by the company built on sanitising fairy tales?
The answer to this question is actually mostly yes. Whilst purists may balk at some of the changes and cuts made to the play, Marshall’s adaptation retains the subversive nature of Sondheim’s original. The film struggles from some necessities of the transition between mediums. An intermission is kind of needed to sell the juxtaposition between the two acts, and to give more time to develop the malaise which grows following happily-ever-after.
The cast, playing a collection of fairy tale characters all brought together by their competing wishes, is generally very strong. There’s no Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia style disasters in the film. Meryl Streep takes the showcase role of The Witch and she performs the hell out of The Witch’s two big numbers ‘Last Midnight’ and ‘Stay With Me’. Streep manages to really highlight The Witch’s sympathetic qualities; even if the cuts in the second act take away from a lot of The Witch’s motivations.
Emily Blunt as The Baker’s Wife is one of the film’s highlights. Blunt does not have a perfect voice, but she brings a great sense of warmth to her character. Johnny Depp wears a dumb costume, but still brings the sexual subtext of the Wolf to the fore, even if he’s missing the exposed wolf cock of the original production, and Chris Pine as Prince Charming, another highlight’s duet with Billy Magnussen, shot like a medieval Michael Bolton video is the film’s funniest moment.
Into the Woods is by no means a perfect musical, but its message that “witches can be right, and giants can be good”, along with Sondheim’s beautiful and witty music means that it’s a musical well worth your time.
Review by Kevin Chiat