- on Friday, 19 December 2014 16:42
- by Frank Wilkins
That deafening rumble? It’s the collective groan of dismay coming from the legion of passionate Stephen Sondheim fans ill at ease with Hollywood getting its grubby hands on yet another of the beloved writer and composer’s most revered pieces. The playwright’s unique imagination can be a tough adaptation for the silver screen, and Into the Woods, with its interweaving plot threads and whimsically complex themes, certainly fits that bill. The internet is full of chatter by apprehensive GenX’ers cringing with cautious optimism that Rob Marshall will do justice to something they’ve cherished since childhood. Unfortunately, those concerns are warranted as Into the Woods fails on many levels to push through its muddied, over-the-top production to reveal any passion, spark, or genuine heart.
James Cordon and Emily Blunt are a humble baker and his wife living in a small village outside a far off kingdom. Childless, thanks to a spell cast upon them by an evil witch (Meryl Streep), the couple must venture out into the dark woods to collect a number of items we all recognize as belonging to some of Grimm’s most memorable tales: a cow as white as a milk (Jack and the Beanstalk); a lock of hair as yellow as corn (Rapunzel); a slipper as pure as gold (Cinderella); and a cape the color of blood (Little Red Rising Hood). Returning the items to the witch in three day’s time will – for some unexplained reason – not only reverse the spell and bless them with a child, but also perform some kind of redemptive magic on the witch as well.
As expected, most of Marshall’s scenes are cloaked in an inky-blue darkness – after all, this is from the world of Grimm. But like many of the film’s other aspects, that darkness is pushed way too far over the top and into a tizzy of despair and hopelessness. Yes, we understand that the forest – both the metaphorical and literal interpretation – is a dark place full of shadowy dangers at every twist and turn, but most of the story’s good-hearted charm and well-meaning themes fail to counter the story’s dour production values.
Then there’s a particularly dark and creepy sequence involving Johnny Depp’s zoot-suited Tex-Avery-styled Big Bad Wolf salaciously salivating over the pre-adolescent Lilla Crawford as Red Riding Hood while singing a number about first sexual encounters titled “I Know Things Now.” Depp is perfect in the scene meant to put us at unease, but it borders on something far more sinister.
Meanwhile, on their trek through the woods, the Bakers cross paths with Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) who is on a separate journey under pursuit by a deceptively charming Prince played by a hammy Chris Pine. These interlocking fairytale character threads – including one from Jack and the Beanstalk – are handled wonderfully and are, by far, the film’s strong suit.
Everyone sings – and quite well. But the songs aren’t the catchy little diddies we’ve come to expect from typical Disney fare. Marshall comes from a choreography background which likely explains his arm’s-length distance from the material and a lack of connection to the cast that just stands around and sings.
Daniel Huttlestone, like Lilla Crawford, is a bit too young for his role as Jack (of beanstalk fame), but Tracy Ullman nails her depiction of Jack’s poverty-stricken mother. Not to be outdone though - nor out-hammed by Pine – is Streep who ruthlessly chews nearly every scene she’s in as the witch who desperately longs for beauty and companionship.
Into the Woods isn’t a pleasant little fairy tale of princesses, queens, and subjects who live happily ever after. It isn’t meant to be. Though rated PG, be cautioned, it should be PG-13 instead. Our fingers are crossed we don’t hear of any Christmas Day nightmare stories from parents herding the kiddoes to see what they think is the next Frozen. But even as a black-tinged fairytale mashup into un-Disney territory, Marshall can’t seem to get out of the way enough to allow screenwriter James Lapine’s themes of greed, ambition, the power of the human spirit, and unconditional love to shine through.
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material..
Runtime: 124 mins
Director: Rob Marshall
Writer: Jame Lapine
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, Chris Pine
Genre: Fantasy | Musical
Tagline: Into The Woods
Memorable Movie Quote: "I was raised to be Charming, not sincere."
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Official Site: http://movies.disney.com/into-the-woods/
Release Date: December 25, 2014
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No details available.
Synopsis: Into the Woods is a modern twist on several of the beloved Brothers Grimm fairy tales, intertwining the plots of a few choice stories and exploring the consequences of the characters wishes and quests. This humorous and heartfelt musical follows the classic tales of Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Jack and the Beanstalk (Daniel Huttlestone), and Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy), all tied together by an original story involving a Baker and his Wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt), their wish to begin a family and their interaction with the Witch (Meryl Streep), who has put a curse on them.
No details available.