Release Date: 9 Jan 2015
Running Time: 125 Min
Director: Rob Marshall
Starring: Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Dan Huttlestone, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine, Johnny Depp, Lilla Crawford
When you think about it, fairytales are pretty horrible, messed up things to tell to children. Kids are abused, threatened, poisoned, eaten and enslaved fairly regularly in these stories and the finale normally involves the murder of some parental figure or other. This thematic richness and outright weirdness is what makes them so ripe for investigation, reinterpretation and subversion. Which brings us to Into the Woods, a film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s three hour Broadway musical of the same name; a dark, postmodern take on fairytales reimagined as a two hour Disney musical.
Intertwining the stories of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel, Into the Woods is centred on a Baker and his Wife (Corden and Blunt), a childless couple desperate for a baby. The only way to fulfil their wish is to find four items for the witch next door (Streep) who placed a curse on the Baker’s family years ago. As the Baker and the Wife venture into the woods they cross paths with familiar faces who each appear to have one of the necessary items in their possession.
With a collection of well-known characters and an all star cast, it’s easy to see why Disney might think they have a ready made hit on their hands, as this is like a Brothers Grimm Avengers. However despite director Rob Marshall’s best efforts to cut the running time and some of the darker, more upsetting material, Into the Woods isn’t really a kids film. This is dour and serious minded, reflected by the earthy visual palette of browns and greys and the abundance of mud and dirt. There’s not much in the way of comic relief and themes of parenthood, commitment, responsibility and consequences are not particularly interesting to nine year olds who want to see witches, princes and giants.
With all this mud and grime, as well as a fair amount of death and destruction, Into the Woods seems to be striving for some of the gravitas and scale of Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables, but it’s largely unsuccessful in hitting those dramatic high notes. Unfortunately it’s also weirdly stodgy, with only a couple of the songs having a sense of fun about them. The film lacks the zip and vitality of some modern musicals like Mamma Mia! and Moulin Rouge!; perhaps it could have done with an exclamation mark at the end of the title!
Despite falling between two stools, Into the Woods isn’t completely without merit. The cast perform gamely and the sets and costumes are exquisitely crafted, it’s just that in trying so hard to make this appeal to folks of all ages, Disney have created something that doesn’t really satisfy anyone. Unless you’ve always wanted to see Meryl Streep rapping about vegetables.