Saturday, January 3, 2015

Review: Into the Woods

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.
I remember, as a child, going to see the Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's "Into the Woods" and enjoying it. It's a clever show, so it's a disappointment to find Rob Marshall's film to often be such a chore. It's not a bad movie, but it's lacking somewhat in inspiration, despite boasting a cast that features Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Christine Baranski, James Corden, Chris Pine and Tracey Ullman.

For those unaware of the source material, "Woods" combines several fairy tales, playing out their stories, but then filling its second half with the further adventures of characters such as Cinderella, Rapunzel, a wicked witch, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and a baker and his wife.

The film is at its best when it riffs on these beloved stories and makes the characters a little different than you might remember them - for example, Little Red Riding Hood is a notorious snacker, while Cinderella's ability to communicate with birds borders on being disturbing, especially when they poke out the eyes of her wicked stepsisters.

And to everyone's credit, the cast can sing. I'd already heard Kendrick's voice in "Pitch Perfect," Depp in "Sweeney Todd" and Corden in films that required belting it out, but I had no idea of Streep's abilities, although one should never bet against her numerous talents.

Still, "Into the Woods" often drags and, much like Peter Jackson's recent "Hobbit" trilogy (the latest of which is reviewed here), this picture's existence seems to be justified merely by Hollywood's unexplainable requirement to put every famous children's story (or variation thereof) on celluloid. Don't believe me? Then, check out trailers for the upcoming live action "Cinderella" and "Paddington" or observe the recent remake of "Annie."

Of the five feature films Marshall has made, three have been musicals - the Academy Award winning "Chicago," which remains his best, the so-so adaptation of "Nine" and, now, this. "Into the Woods" has its moments, most of which are due to its performers, but it's not among the more inspired of the recent slate of musicals made into movies.

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