Film Review: Into The Woods

What do you get if you blend Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and The Beanstalk with Stephen Sondheim?  Well, once upon a time…

Into The Woods is a film adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim and Jame Lapine musical, which jumbles several different fairy tales to create a dark and delightful story.  The baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) wish for a child, while Cinderella (Anna Kendrick ) hopes to go to the festival at the royal palace.  A greedy Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) sets out for grandmother’s house and Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) has to sell the family cow.  When the Witch (Meryl Streep) reveals the way to reverse the curse which keeps the baker childless, he and his wife set out on a quest to find a cape as red as blood, a cow as white as milk, hair as yellow as corn and a golden slipper, and all the characters embark on journeys across the woods.

Before I go anywhere with this review I need to reveal that I’m a Sondheim fan.  It took me a while to get there, but I basically love him.  It’s pretty much the same with what I feel about what Rob Marshall has produced in the form of musicals on film over the years. However, Into The Woods is not a show I know well, so there could have been a chance that I didn’t like it, couldn’t there?

Fat chance of that –  I loved it. For a start I think the fact that this musical has been given the chance to be seen widely by bringing it to film is fantastic. The plot weaves in and out through all the characters, just as they wind their way through the woods, Marshall directing all the different elements of the movie to create something that looks and sounds luscious.  I also appreciate the way that even though this is a Disney movie, the darkness remains and it’s full of the blinding the handsome prince and plucking out the eyes of the ugly sisters that fairy tales are really about.  It seems no coincidence that James Lapine who wrote the book for the musical has replicated the black side in his writing of the screenplay.

The score is very reminiscent of Sondheim’s work.  It’s not in the musical tradition of light melodies and jolly tunes that hook you in, but something deeper and more symphonic.  The songs are full of clever lyrics and rhymes that take us aback, with layers of black humour, blame, questioning, fear and being careful what you wish for. There are no jazz hands with Sondheim.

I can only presume that everyone in Hollywood who had even half a singing voice was fighting for a part in this movie.  The lucky few are really well cast, Meryl Streep’s witch being completely mesmerising, being so wicked, unhinged and manipulative.  Also of note is Chris Pine as Cinderella’s Prince, who brings a slimy quality to a less than charming character and who really can sing.  His duet of Agony with Rapunzel’s Prince (Billy Magnussen), both princes trying to outdo each other in the pain of seemingly unobtainable love, is brilliant.

In the end, this isn’t a musical you are going to forget. It’s a reinterpretation of what it means to get a happy ending, but then we all know there are hidden dangers lurking metaphorically in the woods. It’s a surprise anyone gets out unscathed.

Into The Woods continues to be screened in cinemas now.

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