Saturday, 17 January 2015

Film Review: Into The Woods



Into The Woods is a Disney musical adapted from the Broadway show of the same name. It's a retelling of several classic fairytales that intertwine with one another - Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel to be exact. 

Witches, giants and magical kingdoms (no teddy bear picnics though), Into The Woods is an enchanting adventure that, whilst sporadically entertaining, doesn't wholly impress.

Based on a Broadway play that has been around since the 1980's, Into The Woods sees several fairytales converse for one magical story. It's an impressive cast is headed up by Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine and Johnny Depp.

If Into The Woods was aiming to capture the essence of a Broadway show on the big screen, it does achieve that at least. The way in which the scenes are framed and cut together recalls the way in which the stage would be set-up for multiple characters singing and acting at the same time. This is also showcased where a character like Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) or Cindarella (Anna Kendrick) would re-enter the scene and recount what they just did, rather than the film actually showing it. This isn't a complaint though - the film can't physically follow every single storyline methodically otherwise it'd be four hours long.

The narrative instead revolves around The Baker (James Corden) and The Baker's Wife (Emily Blunt) - they are tasked by The Witch (Meryl Streep) with retrieving four items that will help lift a curse on their house and allow them to start a family. In my opinion, Blunt was the stand-out actor from the cast with her performance lifting every scene or song she was in. That being said, Anna Kendrick rises to the challenge and also impresses in her role as Cinderella.

Streep (who has been nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award) is pretty good as The Witch. She certainly commits to the role and has fun with it. Whether it's a performance worthy of an Oscar nomination is another story though - personally, it's nothing special and, if anything, the nomination should've gone to Kendrick or Blunt.

Chris Pine adds a dash of sexiness as Cindarella's Prince, but comes across as very cheesy and not at all likeable. Johnny Depp plays the Big Bad Wolf in the Red Riding Hood section of the story but his role is nothing more than an extended cameo - which is probably a good thing because recent Depp films have had too much of his cartoonish characters to swallow. In smaller doses, he's easier to handle.

My only complaint is the story structure. Now, I understand that the film has to follow the plot of the original play but c'mon - that faux ending that leads into the entire second act was just mean! The film builds towards this 'happily ever after' ending where everyone gets their wish but then suddenly diverts course. At first I thought, "Oh, this is some kind of cute epilogue", but it's not - it's the second half of the movie!

The film essentially pulls the rug from beneath our feet and the audience is left scrambling to understand why there is still more story to be told - weren't all our characters happy just a few minutes ago? I thought it was over? Whilst the film comes good in the end and the overarching message is revealed in due course, I felt that this transition between Act I and II wasn't handled very well. The actual ending is nice and nowhere near as generic as you'd expect.

As you'd hope for a musical of this calibre, the soundtrack and songwriting are both really good. It's hard to pinpoint which track is the 'big one' but 'Stay With Me' (performed  by Meryl Streep) or the prologue, 'Into The Woods' (performed by the entire cast) would be the logical choice. My personal favourite was 'Agony', which was performed by Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen - the sight of these two guys standing atop a pouring waterfall singing about heartbreak was hilarious.

I also thought that the film suffered from the same tonal issues that 2010's Alice in Wonderland did. It's too dark and long for kids who are still smitten with Big Hero 6 (especially in the final act) and it's too tiresome to prevent adults from fidgeting. So we're left wondering who this film is for? It's certainly not a Disney classic that will stay long in your memory or dominate YouTube with song parodies a la Frozen.

The Verdict: 6/10


Into The Woods is great to look at and the tunes are fun and catchy. The ensemble all work together really well with Emily Blunt and Anna Kendrick standing out from the crowd. If only it had managed the transition from Act I to Act II a little better and not felt so strung out in the second half.

2 comments:

  1. I wasn't a big fan of this movie. By the time the second half hits, I was just waiting for it to end. Emily Blunt was great though, really liked her throughout the movie, and she had a great scene with Chris Pine.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, me too. That whole second act with the giant was so dull I nearly fell asleep. Blunt was really great though, but then again she's great in anything! :)

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