STAYING TRUE TO ITS ROOTS
Debuting on Broadway in 1987 and revived many times since, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s multi-award-winning musical Into The Woods has shuffled its feet in the Hollywood wings many times over without ever making it to screen. Now, a mere 27 years later, their deliciously dark concoction gets the full Disney treatment. But not in the way cynics predicted, because Chicago director Rob Marshall and screenwriter Lapine have stayed true to the oft-eerie tone and adult themes.
In a far-off kingdom, a wicked witch (Meryl Streep) has cursed a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) to be without child, but offers to reverse the curse if they journey into the woods to fetch “the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, the slipper as pure as gold.” And so we’re treated to, paraphrasing Marshall, the Avengers of fairytales, which features a beanstalk-scaling Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) and Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) squabbling in song as their fates cross.
While Marshall’s claim that darkness shot through with courage makes Into The Woods “a fairtytale for the post-9/11 generation” is rather grand, there’s plenty here to admire. Shot by Oscar-winning DoP Dion Beebe, the moonlit woods retain a theatrical quality while opening things out; the lyrical complexity of Sondheim’s songs is preserved; the use of CGI is judicious, especially when granting glimpses of giants far more effective than Bryan Singer’s in Jack The Giant Slayer; and a sombre third act journeys beyond the ‘happily ever after’ when it might easily have been axed to appease anxious parents.
Performances, too, are largely on song, with Streep digging to find pain in the pantomime, Blunt licking her comic chops and Chris Pine attacking his puffed-up Prince with appropriate gusto (“I was raised to be charming, not sincere”). And Corden? His heart and humour hint at why he won a Tony for One Man, Two Guvnors – another couple of turns like this and we might forgive Lesbian Vampire Killers.
Streep’s rendition of ‘Stay With Me’ aside, however, Marshall’s film never quite hits the emotional notes it’s reaching for, and anyone praying for Johnny Depp to put away his make-up box will groan at his bushy-browed cameo as the Big Bad Wolf.