Starring: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick
Genre: Fantasy/ Musical
In a land far, far away a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Blunt) are told by an evil witch (Streep) that if they are to reverse the curse she has placed upon them to remain forever childless they must go into the words and acquire items owned by the likes of Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Cinderella and Jack. All these character’s lives intertwine and their supposed individual fairytales do not go quite as expected.
Disney seem to like redoing the classic fairy tales at the moment, and now they have decided to adapt James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s highly successful stage musical, I have never seen the original stage musical and so am in no position to comment on how good that is. However for what is an adaptation, Into the Woods certainly hides that well as when watching it has a narrative that is so slapdash it genuinely feels like the writer (Lapine adapting his own stage show) is making everything up as he goes along. You may be able to get away with that on the stage to some extent, but on the screen it clunks in a very painful way!
To criticise Into the Woods for having an incoherent narrative may seem like a slightly pointless criticism as it is a musical and they are of course, whether it be stage or screen, be about spectacle, catchy songs and being fun. However the visuals are not that spectacular, the songs are not that catchy and the film is not actually that much fun, which considering the concept of having characters we all know very well, is a bit of a badly missed opportunity considering the potential the concept offers of poking fun or offering an alternative look at the characters and their individual fairytales.
The original stage show was far darker and in making sure the film is a PG rating and supposedly a family film perhaps there has been a few too many compromises, but despite the fact all the characters are extremely well known, Into The Woods is an often alienating and uninvolving experience that at 125 minutes just goes on for too long and is at times a laborious viewing experience. Then considering this is made by the director of the abysmal fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film that probably isn’t very surprising.
Into the Woods is of course not terrible, but ultimately isn’t that much fun either, but the cast of big names do help to keep it just about watchable with Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick and Chris Pine (who gets the only really good line in the entire film) suitably hamming things up in their respective roles. James Corden tries but seems a little out of his depth and struggles to bring any sympathy to a character that is essentially the film’s main protagonist. While Johnny Depp once again plays Jack Sparrow (just with more hair) for his two scenes and is just plain irritating. Emily Blunt is the stand out, giving heart to a role as the film’s other main character even though the script doesn’t.
Criticising a musical for having what fills like total filler is perhaps like criticising Woody Allen for referencing Dostoyevsky, but with the exception of one song (‘Agony’ sung by the two princes) the songs are not memorable, while the camerawork and direction feels extremely flat. It is almost quite impressive just how Into the Woods ruins its concept and just how dull it often is and its characters unmemorable.
A lazy, messy, bloated and often boring musical that should have been tremendous fun but just is not; some of the performances elevate the lacklustre material (not Depp’s!), but Into the Woods is an underwhelming right royal mess.