Into the Woods (PG)

If you don’t like musicals then there’s no point going to see Into the Woods. The adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s 1987 musical is jam-packed with cringey duets and people sporadically bursting into song.

Rob Marshall, director of Chicago, Nine, Memoirs of a Geisha and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Strange Tides, certainly had his work cut out here.

Into the Woods is a modern twist on the beloved Brothers Grimm fairy tales that follows the classic tales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel.

The movie is tied together by an original story involving a witch (Meryl Streep) who tasks a childless baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) with procuring magical items from classic fairy tales to reverse the curse put on their family tree.

‘Act One’ – Three days before the rise of a blue moon, the couple venture into the forest to find the ingredients that will reverse the spell and restore the witch’s beauty: a milk-white cow, hair as yellow as corn, a blood-red cape, and a slipper of gold. During their journey, they meet Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) and Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), each one on a quest to fulfil a wish.

The characters wander off-road and into one another’s stories, muddying the morals and restoring the fairy tales’ unpredictable, folklorish bite. The genius of the movie is that it leads you into the woods with a happy song, but then once you’re in there all bets are off.

‘Act Two’ sees everyone returns to the woods, dealing with the consequences of their previous wishes. Unexpected twists occur, tragedy strikes, and much is learned about the nature of fairy tales and what constitutes “happily ever after.” It is a dark reflection of the previous act.

If you go down to the woods today you’re going to be disappointed. All you’re going to find is a shoddy movie with shaky acting and questionable musical numbers. It was a given that Corden’s acting was going to be as wooden as the trees surrounding him, but I wasn’t expecting his singing to be so dire.

The movie starts strong but goes downhill fast.  The music has been very faithfully reproduced so it’s a shame that the some of the cast can’t deliver it. It’s unbelievably distracting to watch a bunch of actors lip-sync for 2+ hours.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen over-dramatic duet “Agony”.  It’s a comedic showstopper, with both Princes drenched in buckets of both machismo and cascading water.

Pine’s Prince embodies every hot guy you’ve fallen for, only to sadly discover there’s not much going on behind those sparkling blue eyes. But, thanks to Pine’s pitch-perfect performance, he’s a handsome idiot that you’ll love to hate. His comic timing is impeccable and goes all-out with a character that’s meant to be over-the-top.

Not one to be outdone, Magnussen tries his hardest to shine just as bright in his smaller princely role. But despite his best efforts Pine steals the whole movie.

Johnny Depp, who plays the Big Bad Wolf, is apparently incapable of behaving like he’s in anything other than a Tim Burton movie. Corden and Blunt’s chemistry and comic timing seem to have got lost in the woods. Kendrick’s singing far surpasses her acting ability.

Huttlestone is darling and a dolt. His performance is pitch-perfect and makes you want to watch him in his role as Gavroche in Les Miserables all over again. Crawford’s Little Red just nails the tone of the piece. Her line “Oh dear…how uneasy I feel” gets a laugh, as do most of her other lines.

The Witch is an iconic role, and Meryl Streep is an iconic actress. Here, we get Streep playing at the top of her comedy game, singing gorgeously in “Stay With Me”, “Lament”, and “Children Will Listen”, a trifecta of songs which represent the heart of the musical.

My enthusiasm for this movie vanished the instant the first note was sung. It’s a bare-boned take on a meaty musical. Do yourself a favour and avoid Into the Woods. You’ll thank me later.

By Ruth Walker
★★☆☆☆

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