FILM REVIEW: Into the Woods

Into the Woods (Rob Marshall, 2014)

Musical lovers, rejoice! At long last Into the Woods is here (a full two bloody weeks after the US I might add) and it is as exquisite as we could have hoped. There are a few changes from the stage musical though these seem to be minor. As I’ve only ever seen an average university production of the musical which I have tried to forget, I wasn’t too bothered by these changes, though I can’t speak for its biggest fans.

You can never make Meryl ugly... well, almost
You can never make Meryl ugly… well, almost

For the completely uninitiated, Into the Woods is Stephen Sondheim’s twist on the fairy tales we all grew up with. Familiar characters include Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Prince Charming (Chris Pine), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), The Wolf (Johnny Depp), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), her Prince (Billy Magnussen) and the fabulous evil witch (Meryl Streep). Added to the mix, and at the heart of the musical, are original characters The Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt). The Witch has cast a curse upon them, and to lift it they must retrieve a milky white cow, a red cape, some yellow hair, and a gold slipper. A trip to Coles should do it.

I think I saw a spider
I think I saw a spider

Every character is after something, but the clear moral of the story is to be careful what you wish for. While the first act focuses on everyone obtaining what they are after, the second is when shit really hits the fan and all bets are off. Now despite this being a Disney produced film, and one that is about fairy tales, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DO NOT BRING YOUR FIVE YEAR OLD. At my screening some silly women brought a gaggle of five year old boys along who sat petrified before basically falling over themselves to leave the second the final credits rolled. This is not a film for young kids. Characters get blinded, amputated, killed, and The Wolf is clearly a sexual predator. (Furthermore, it’s two hours long.) Into the Woods is a dark musical, and despite some of the heavier stuff being cut or made more subtle, it certainly isn’t for littlies. There aren’t many happily ever afters here.

Here's Johnny!
Here’s Johnny!

Clearly this is a film for those who appreciate the musical genre, so don’t go and see it and then complain about how they kept breaking into song – YOU KNEW WHAT YOU WERE IN FOR. This is a treat for the musical fans and it is of epic proportions. There’s lavish production design, beautiful costumes, mesmerising orchestrations, and a killer cast. Despite bearing few actual singers the casting is borderline perfect.

Bitches in the kitchen
Bitches in the kitchen

Meryl Streep. Need I say more? I can’t even. Anna Kendrick is her perfect, sweet, beautiful self as Cinderella and I CANNOT WAIT to see her in The Last 5 Years which better bloody well be released in Australia at the same time as the US or I WILL BE WRITING A LETTER. Emily Blunt has never demonstrated her singing skills before and yet she really can hold a tune! She also made me laugh out loud with her comical delivery at one point. James Corden is like a lovable teddy bear that you want to squeeze to near-death. After pretending to sing in One Chance and kinda singing in Begin Again, here he finally sings properly, and he is just such a pleasure to watch. Chris Pine is absolutely hilarious as Prince Charming – possibly even my favourite in the whole thing – and Billy Magnussen as Rapunzel’s Prince isn’t bad either. Their duet of ‘Agony’ is priceless.

It's almost time to rip our shirts off
It’s almost time to rip our shirts off

Mackenzie Mauzy as Rapunzel is perhaps the least impressive, though I’m not surprised to hear that it was her character’s story that was changed the most – her arc seemed to just disappear in a puff of smoke. Lilla Crawford and Daniel Huttlestone as Little Red Riding Hood and Jack (of the beanstalk variety) are very American and very British respectively, and they just screamed Little Orphan Annie and Gavroche (both previous roles of theirs). Regardless, they were both very strong (possibly the best in the film) and thank god Crawford ended up with the gig instead of previously cast Sophia Grace (maybe good for an Ellen segment, but a MUSICAL? Come off it!) Johnny Depp does his creepy kooky thing as The Wolf which is a small but powerful role, and to my mind has the best song in the whole musical – ‘Hello Little Girl’ – even if it is a little (read: A LOT) predatory. In smaller roles, Tracey Ullman as Jack’s mother and Christine Baranski as Cinderella’s stepmother add a bit of spice, along with Broadway alumni Tammy Blanchard and always-the-stepsister-never-the-lead Lucy Punch.

At the Desperate and Dateless ball
At the Desperate and Dateless ball

Into the Woods is just about as perfect as it could possibly be, thanks to a terrific cast and crew. With Rob Marshall (director of Chicago and Nine) at the helm and composer extraordinaire Stephen Sondheim watching over proceedings, Into the Woods also showcases Dion Beebe’s gorgeous cinematography and Colleen Atwood’s beautiful costume design. A near faultless film, those who end up disliking it will probably do so because of the source material. (And once again, if you don’t like the musical genre: STAY AWAY.) Sondheim isn’t one of my favourite composers (his lyrics are brilliant but his scores don’t light my heart on fire) but there’s no denying the quality of this finally realised gem. Musical lovers: run, don’t walk.

4.5 stars

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