Originally a Stephen Sondheim broadway show that hit theatres in 1986, ‘Into the Woods’ is not your typical Disney musical. Blending various fairytale characters and storylines into a mash up of fantastical proportions, similar to Shrek. Yet gone is the humour that personified the film franchise, and the focus is on morals and darker desires of the individual characters. The dark and gloomy setting makes it nothing like the Disney musicals before, but bears a striking resemblance to ‘Sweeney Todd : Demon Barber of Fleet street’- a film that is also based upon a Sondheim musical.
Like the original musical, this filmic production holds multiple plot strands that focus on different characters but places the main emphasis of narrative progression on the character of the Baker – portrayed by British actor James Corden. The circular narrative it employs means the film struggles to maintain a focus to which audiences can follow. Instead it comes across as staggered in its build up, and confusing with multiple story strands overlapping and holding no proper aim. In its structural choices, ‘Into the Woods’ is somewhat different to the usual Fairytale narratives, a factor that makes the movie both unique while also slightly odd. For all that it does right, the production falters in the duller parts of the story. These moments progress slowly, and hold no proper function in developing the narrative further. Unnecessary and annoying, these prevent the film from being the standard that other moments hint toward.
With a star studded cast, the film is acted quite brilliantly. Meryl Streep delivers perfectly in her role as ‘the Witch’ and will once again gain all plaudits. Looking further a field, the entire ensemble delivers their characters well. Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine and Emily Blunt each bring the correct personas to their roles, even when they differ from the fairytale characters that they emulate. Newcomers Lilla Crawford, Daniel Hutterstone and MacKenzie Mauzy fit in well with the A-listers that fill the majority of the ensemble. James Corden however does seem rather lack lustre in his acting. Whether this is because his character is the least interesting, or his acting talents are simply not up to the same standard as the others, is debatable- however the film struggles to incorporate him well. One actor that is horribly underused in this film, is Johnny Depp. Featured in only one song and two small scenes, his screen presence is only around 15 minutes in length. Creepy yet intriguing, his wolf was interesting to watch and as such the lack of time he is given spoilt his actual inclusion within the film.
Practical sets make up the majority of the films design. This really draws the audience into the world presented on screen, and keep some feel of realism to the narrative that’s being watched. Costume design is also admirable within the film, with the anthropomorphic wolf a great example of this. Stylised to the point of what’s needed, the film never appears inadequate in its overall production standard. Director Rob Marshall has a background in musical film productions, and this shows. Making the film seem less like a musical, and more like the fantasy films it emulates, he brings a level of sophistication to the movie .
One fault with regard to the production design however, is the manner in which the films beanstalk is designed. More cut and paste than properly implemented, the film is spoilt slightly with the style chosen to represent this important element of the film. Moreover the cinematography is gloomy and dull, with a dark filter placed upon the screen. This makes the film feel – in places – rather dreary and uninteresting.
With all musicals, the main selling point is obviously the music itself. ‘Into the Woods’ is a mixed bag with regard to this filmic element. Sections of the soundtrack are slow, and repetitive with certain songs lasting far longer than is most obviously acceptable.
The theme throughout the production is a good piece of music but, by being overplayed means that it does seem to grit into the audiences mind, much like a nematic drill on a weekend morning. There are however some notable inclusions that bring the standard of music to the levels of screen greats.
The duet of ‘Agony’ sung by the films princes, is perhaps the strongest moment of music within the film. Humorous and full of character development, this song brings the most growth to the piece while also utilising several moments of laughter to lighten the mood. Another great song is Johnny Depp’s solo moments of ‘Hello, Little Girl’. Jazzy and fun, the song will more than likely stay in the audience’s memories long after the closing credits. Easily the best performed song, Depp’s voyeuristic demeanour gives a quality edge to the character of the wolf.
‘Into the Woods’ is different in most regards. Dark and dreary with moments of horror, the film may well be one of Disney’s most adult. Children should still find enough fun in its content to hold interest, but it is obviously aimed towards the older demographic. A star studded cast brings the musical to filmic standards, and yet some characters appear lost in the shadow of the others. Similar to ‘Sweeney Todd’ unsurprisingly, the film holds a similar style that works on most levels. A fairly good adaptation of a stage musical, the film however has too many moments of dullness and repetition to fully present itself as something great.
Plot – 3
Acting – 4
Direction – 3
Special Effects – 4
Retrospect – 3
Overall – 3