Into The Woods (Rob Marshall, 2015)

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.

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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.

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Quiz of the Year 2014 – Answers

Answers to last week’s quiz!

1. The Golden Globes took place on 12th January in Beverley Hills. What edition of the Golden Globes was this?
A: 71st
2. Set in Paris and directed by McG, what was the name of Kevin Coster’s critically-panned action film released in February?
A: 3 Days To Kill
3. According to John Travolta, who won the Academy Award for Best Song in March?
A: The wickedly talented, one and only, Adele Dazeem
4. British acting legend Bob Hoskins sadly passed away on 29th April, leaving behind a legacy of excellent performances throughout a busy career in cinema. But in which 2012 film did we see Hoskins in his final role?
A: Snow White and the Huntsman
5. Which top-billed character was cut from the film X-Men: Days of Future Past for timing purposes, sparking a furore amongst fans demanding a recut version, now set for release in summer 2015?
A: Rogue
6. Released in June, which film went on to be the highest grossing of the year despite featuring hardly any dinosaurs at all?
A: Transformers: Age of Extinction
7. What was the name of Michel Gondry’s quirky romantic film, released in July and starring Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou.
A: Mood Indigo / L’Ecume Des Jours
8. Which film, released in August, featured minor performances from Rob Zombie, Peter Serafinowicz and Josh Brolin?
A: Guardians of the Galaxy
9. Which stop-motion animated film, released in September, featured the voice talents of Sir Ben Kingsley, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost?
A: The Boxtrolls
10. On 18th October 2014, which Andrey Zvyagintsev film was awarded Best Film at the London Film Festival?
A: Leviathan
11. Which Oscar-winning actor had a posthumous role in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part One as Plutarch Heavensbee?
A: Philip Seymour-Hoffman
12. What was the scientific explanation offered in Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings for the parting of the Red Sea?
A: A tsunami
13. Which 10-hour Claude Lanzmann documentary about the Holocaust is set for release by Masters of Cinema in January 2015, the first time it will be available on Blu-Ray in the UK?
A: Shoah
14. Name any five of the nine films released by Walt Disney Pictures in 2014 (not including Marvel Studios releases).
A: Any five of Muppets Most Wanted; Bears; Million Dollar Arm; Maleficent; Planes: Fire and Rescue; Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day; Khoobsurat; Big Hero 6; Into The Woods

Marks out of 18.