Into The Woods is the big screen adaptation of the classic Sondheim musical of the same name, courtesy of Walt Disney Studios. With a big cast and even bigger budget, it is a film hotly anticipated by fans of musical theatre the world over. So was it any good?
Well, first things first. If you’re thinking of going to see this, you’d better like musicals. If you went to see Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd and thought “I wish these songs would stop”, then you’ve got to avoid this. This is a Sondheim musical (he also wrote the music for Sweeney Todd) and the songs really aren’t a patch on his best work. Having been part of amateur theatre groups in my time, I’m familiar with picking up songs quickly and memorising their melodies with just one or two listens. I can’t even hum a single song from this. It’s probably because they’re just relentless. It doesn’t break you in easily either. The first song either was 12 minutes long or felt like it was, with characters weaving in and out of each other’s motifs in a really clever but essentially quite annoying manner. It was just too much.
If you don’t know, Into The Woods is a story that inter-weaves the plots from four classic fairy tales: Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel. It’s quite clever, although a bit pantomimey at times. However, you have to be willing to go along with the storyline, as with many musicals, and allow yourself to be entertained. As best you can.
The cast is full of huge stars: James Corden and Emily Blunt play the cursed bakers set a task by Meryl Streep’s evil witch. Anna Kendrick is Cinderella, Chris Pine is the charming but cringeworthy Prince Charming, Tracey Ullman is brilliant as the mother of Jack, and Johnny Depp manages to portray Riding Hood’s Wolf at a notch slightly less creepy than his take on Willy Wonka, despite the first half of the song sounding like he is a paedophile (though this is just a criticism of the quite awful Charlie and the Chocolate Factory if I’m honest).
There are some wonderful moments. If you’ve never seen the quintessential male bravado one-upmanship song “Agony”, then Chris Pine and Billy Magnusson do a mighty fine job of it. Emily Blunt and Anna Kendrick are both excellent in their respective roles and continue to impress me as they develop through their careers. Tracy Ullman, as I’ve already mentioned, was another highlight.
My overarching feeling is that I am well-positioned to really like this. One of my guilty pleasures is a good Disney film when I’m feeling down. I’m a fan of musical theatre. I think all of the cast have been brilliant in plenty of other films and this film doesn’t represent a career-lot for anyone. I just left the cinema feeling indifferent and worn out.
It’s well timed because it goes hand-in-hand with Disney’s other big release in Q1 2015, Big Hero 6, which is due out in just under a month and probably has minimal cross-over with the younger target audience.
It is a faithful but watered down version of the stage musical, aimed squarely at the family audience. It retains some of the darkness and some of the magic, but falls short across the board.
Into The Woods is out now at cinemas across the UK.