In recent years, the traditional film musical has fallen out of favour. In the golden age of cinema, musicals were a regular feature at the cinema but now, the musical has left Hollywood for Broadway and the West End and only pops up on the odd occasion. Into the Woods is the latest stage success to come to the Silver Screen.
Based on the Stephen Sondheim musical, Into the Woods brings together four well known fairy tales in one. When the Baker and his wife discover a curse has been placed on their home by a witch, they set out on a mission into the woods that will change their lives forever. In the meantime, Red Riding Hood is heading off to see her grandma, Cinderella is hoping to go to the ball and Jack is heading off to sell his beloved cow at the market.
I am aware that fans of the stage musical found this film appalling, as it cuts out multiple reprieves and much loved songs. However, for someone who has never seen the musical, it is reasonably enjoyable.
This film is a bit of a mishmash of stories, actors and voices. With a mix of actors with history in musical theatre (James Corden, Daniel Huttlestone and Emily Blunt) and non-musically trained actors (Chris Pine, Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp), there is a clear difference between singing abilities. Those with a musical theatre history have obviously tried to keep their stage background prevalent in the film, almost overacting on screen as if they were on stage. While the non-musically trained actors are still able to hold their presence, it is staggeringly obvious who has been trained to sing.
Johnny Depp may not be best known for his singing voice (he was panned in Sweeney Todd for his singing ability, something this reviewer disagreed with), but his growly vocals suited his character of the Wolf down to the ground. It was a shame that his character didn’t last longer than a single scene.
The most memorable scene was of course ‘Agony’, where Cinderella’s Prince (Pine) and Rapunzel’s Prince (Billy Magnussen) sing about their pain of losing their Princesses. Camp and melodramatic, this is a hugely enjoyable scene.
Anna Kendrick’s Cinderella, however, was the best character in the film – even if she is incredibly indecisive! Her lovely voice and developed character allowed her to become captivating and likeable. On the other hand, Lila Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood was sickeningly sweet and irritating.
Had this film been released 14 years ago, before Shrek, it would have fared better both with the box office and with critics. Having Shrek introduce us to the alternative world of fairy tales where the Princesses can hold their ground and the Princes are a bit pathetic, the premise has worn thin. For younger viewers who grew up on Shrek, many may consider Into the Woods to be a rehash of the same old story.
As an enjoyable romp through fairy tale kingdoms, Into the Woods will no doubt become a guilty pleasure for many people. For anyone who is expecting a reliable retelling of a stage classic, this film will be a severe disappointment.
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