Into The Woods? More like into the dumps.
Thirty years later and the adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s fairy tale farrago finally graces our presence. The problem is that in the three decades it took to get the ball rolling the whole ‘happily-ever-after’, sing-song genre has been explored countless times: some leading to great success, like of the trio of Shrek films and Tangled, while others were complete duffs. Even the original broadway show of Into the Woods, from 1987, was part trumped by the release of Rob Reiner’s The Princess bride just a few months after. Leaving many to wonder whether the musical was cursed to always be second best and never to give Sondheim his very own fairy tale success. Rob Marshall, director of the 2015 film version, was finally given the rights to adapt the musical with Walt Disney. After his success with the oscar winning Chicago in 2002, only to turn the opportunity down until now.
The opening of Marshall’s film begins with a sixteen-minute musical medley introducing the protagonists as they chorus and explain their reasons to go Into The Woods following details from the various fables each character belongs to. Despite giving a full round up of what is to offer, such a complex multi-character montage is far less compelling in cinema to the magical spark notoriously given in the opening of a Broadway show. The only saviours from this being a dismal performance are Meryl Streep, a haggard old witch with an impressive blue hairdo and Emily Blunt: a baron baker’s wife. Together, giving the film the comical and melodic touch it needs to stop your ear drums bursting from the brass-heavy score. Meanwhile, the less impressive cast is compromised by many well-known stars including; James Corden, as the Baker and narrator. A character more like Smithy from Essex than an enchanting storyteller. Jack and Red Riding hood (Daniel Huddleston and Lilla Crawford) trapped as that toxic broadway brat breed of belters, that a lascivious Wolf like Johnny Depp cannot eat up quick enough. Surprisingly, Anna Kendrick’s performance as indecisive Cinderella was expected to be extremely popular after the hit teenage film Pitch Perfect but is in fact ‘blunted’ by Emily as the baker’s wife. On top of this, there is the overly cheesy performance from the duo of sexual predator princes, who are more sleaze than charming with their mock romance. While Christine Baranski, as Wicked Stepmother, goes all out Katie Hopkins: bitch mode on. From there we meet many more damsels and heroes as the film goes on…and on. But why was the film such a blunder with a massive all-star cast and budget?
In terms of the plot, the film follows the original with great fidelity. Yet, from the very beginning its darkness and meaning are masked by the extravagant songs and tangle of stories; from shopping lists to reverse a curse, to the consequences of stealing from giants- all because of a stolen vegetable. According to the director, the real message lies within “morals, family and wishes” but some of these are more fickle to see than others. Perhaps it can be said that Disney and Marshall strayed a little too far from the path with the constant cross cuts in the story and clunky changeovers in the songs, missing the smoothness that a musical remake should uphold. Yet the film isn’t a complete waste of time with Emily Blunt’s fresh take on the Baker’s wife with offbeat readings and the fact she can actually sing well too, a shock from many of her past films. Undoubtedly, this is what earned her a Golden Globe nomination alongside Streep instead of Kendrick, whose moody expressions make indecisive cinders look more hormonal teenager than fictional princess.
Overall the experience of the film isn’t unenjoyable but such a well-trodden path of fairy tale adaptations means that even the plot twist doesn’t bring surprise or magic to the audience. on top of this, it has to be questioned who Disney and Marshall were, in fact, aiming this film at? Too sinister and complex for Disney’s typical family audience, but also too flouncy and over done for anyone else who has lived through endless remakes of the Grimm Brothers’ fairytales. It’s quite easy to say that this one will only get Disney a few magic beans at the box office and won’t be the hit film they were expecting.