Into the Woods: Film Review

“Once Upon a Time…”

Into the Woods has just hit UK cinemas, offering a silver screen take on the much loved Stephen Sondheim musical. Starring big names like Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt and Johnny Depp, there’s a big chance that at least one actor you might like is starring in it. At first, this might seem like a box office gimmick but in fact it’s very much the performances of these well acclaimed names that makes the film such a delight.

The film follows by and large much of the original musical’s plot: we take the well known stories of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel, and cross them over in a story focusing on a childless couple that are offered a bargain by a Witch. We see the consequences of each of the characters wishes and wants – what they must go through or decide to get their happy ending and of course, what happens after…

Of all the things that first hits you about the film (aside from the constant music, of course), is the colour palette and tone of the film. Draped in dark blues, muddly golds and blacks, this is no fluffy Disney story. Into the Woods is called that for a reason – the woods are dark, dangerous and conjure up all manner of things. Aside from the bright glowing red of Red Riding Hood’s cloak, Rob Marshall has evidently gone for a specific tone for a reason, and it works beautifully.

Though I’m a fan of the original musical via the soundtrack, I’ve never seen the musical in person and therefore cannot offer a direct comparison. However, Rob Marshall’s translation of the many storylines onto the screen is successful. Some stories that are given more time in the musical are perhaps a little lacking: the ending and therefore ideas behind Rapunzel’s story, for example. I don’t necessarily think it cheapen’s the points that are being made in the film, but if I’m comparing it to the musical I think it makes it a little weaker in comparison.

The scene changes are smart and snappy, the choreography cleverly done so that there’s no lagging for the audience to get bored. It’s easy to be held in rapture all the way through. This brings me to my point about the performances offered in the film. With such a big ensemble cast it’s easy to lose some people along the way – I sorely missed what Christine Baranski and Simon Russell Beale could have brought even more to the table had they been given more time. But that’s just part and parcel of it. However, characters like Chris Pine’s Prince or Billy Magnussen’s Prince’s Brother fill up their limited screentime with incandescent performances that have more depth than other actors might give. It’s fair to say that the four main leads are completely splendid: Meryl Streep is untouchably brilliant but so are Emily Blunt, James Corden and Anna Kendrick, all vets of musical and costume drama who we knew would be able to accomplish their roles when we heard they were cast.

Overall, there is much to like about Into the Woods. At first I worried at the running time, and how this might alienate those with no predisposition to musicals. Coming from a fairly musical adverse household, two hours was not met with enthusiasm. I felt the sharp characterisations of Cinderella, the Prince etc. were great enough to make the material compelling, enabling the time to fly by. For certain, the ending (and by that I generally mean, from the second half) is not as dark or brooding as the original musical. That being said, Into the Woods still manages to place itself in the better half of musical film adaptations thanks to a strong cast and just as strong production. Go see it if you have the chance.

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