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Into The Woods

Into The Woods

Released 9 January 2015
Director Rob Marshall

Anna Kendrick, Daniel Huttlestone, James Corden, Emily Blunt, Christine Baranski, Tammy Blanchard, Lucy Punch, Tracey Ullman, Lilla Crawford, Meryl Streep, Simon Russell Beale, Joanna Riding, Johnny Depp, Chris Pine
Writer(s) James Lapine

John DeLuca, Rob Marshall, Callum McDougall, Marc Platt
Origin United States
Running Time 125 minutes
Genre Comedy, family, fantasy
Rating PG

And they lived adequately ever after.

On paper and imagining the possibilities, Into the Woods is a film that had me very excited indeed. Combining age-old fairytales with composer Stephan Sondheim’s “micro-timed word play”, complex melodies and his disregard for appealing to the masses was something I wanted to see. And for a film that took over $31million in the box office on its opening weekend, when it had quite a paltry budget of $50million, it seems like a lot of people agreed with me. I’m quite disappointed that things didn’t really work out the way I had hoped.

To understand this film properly one needs to trace its origins a little, and in particular to understand its composer, Stephan Sondheim. Originally a Broadway musical which Stephan Sondheim composed from James Lapine’s novel, it won Tony Awards when such competition as Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera was sweeping the boards. Sondheim has been seen by many throughout his career as an intellectual; a composer dedicated to the perfection of his material and art rather than to produce smash hits - qualities that don’t spring to mind when one thinks of musicals, and in particular one with a big-screen Disney adaptation out in time for Christmas.

The soundtrack, dialogue and themes are what are to be looked out for here then – but somehow, when all is combined, it doesn’t quite live up to what it could have been. Into the Woods combines stories that we all associate in our minds with the Brothers Grimm; Little Red Riding Hood (Lila Crawford), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Muazy), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Jack and the Beanstalk (Daniel Huttlestone, you may remember him from Les Miserables), and wrap them all around newly imagined characters of a baker and his wife, who must break a curse and appease the witch in order to have children. The beauty of Into the Woods is supposedly its break away from the “happy ever after” fairytale ending, and to show more realistic themes of dreams not being what you’d hoped, of temptation, infidelity, greed, and supposedly “subverting” the typical end to these fairytales we all know and love. Some are forgetting, I think, the true origins of these tales – the dark and murky endings which Disney had to change, the sometimes violent and sexual glimmers that are a surprise part of many of our beloved children’s fairytales. Though it’s true that Disney did cut a few elements from the musical to make the movie more suitable and sellable to a Frozen-obsessed audience, I feel that the blame for Into the Woods being not much more than adequate lies with the original.

There are a number of tasty elements to this musical which I enjoyed – Cinderella realises that the grass was greener on the other side, Jack just wants his cow back, and the baker’s wife lusts after Cinderella’s Prince. However the various stories all thrown together has the effect of weakening the darker elements, and there’s just too much for us to wrap our head around to really get emotionally involved with anything. There are some stellar moments though; Chris Pine (I’m loving his cocky Prince Charming roles in everything lately) and Rapunzel’s Prince (Billy Magnussen) sing a great duet of 'Agony', which beautifully mocks the “handsome prince” and instead presents us with some cocky, arrogant idiots. Meryl Streep is magnificent as she sings 'Agony', an emotional look into motherhood and letting go; through the eyes of a “wicked witch”. Emily Blunt as the baker’s wife is funny, natural, honest and open – she really seems to connect with what Sondheim wanted from his baker family; a touch of real life mixed up in a fairytale. The fact that it is a musical from Broadway converted to film is a little too painfully obvious all the way through; two hours needs a reprieve and the acts blended together feel a bit chaotic. It’s not a Disney classic or a musical delight by any stretch of the imagination, in my opinion, but a few of those songs are running around my head as I write this. Not quite a happy ending, but acceptable.

- Eadaoin Browne