Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Musical
Directed by: Rob Marshall
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, Chris Pine, Emily Blunt, James Corden
Those wishing to find themselves a new Disney earworm to replace the now ubiquitously popular ‘Let It Go’ are likely to be the ones who are most disappointed with Into The Woods. For despite most of its fidgety running time being comprised of majestically orchestrated melodies, there’s very little here that’ll bring music to your ears.
Based on Stephen Sondheim’s award-winning Broadway production, Into The Woods amalgamates a compendium of Brothers Grimm fairy-tales (including ‘Cinderella’, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, & ‘Rapunzel’), having them all play out simultaneously within the eponymous forest. Tying it all together is the story of a baker (James Cordon) and his wife (Emily Blunt), who are sent on a quest to retrieve various magical items in order to lift the curse placed on them by an evil witch (Meryl Streep).
Set against bewitching backdrops, it cannot be said that Into The Woods doesn’t look the part. Director Rob Marshall has already earned his musical stripes with the overrated Chicago and the underrated Nine, and here he effortlessly manages to capture the visual magnificence of a show-stopping hit. It’s simply spectacular to look at, so captivating in fact that you would not be blamed for initially falling under its spell.
What’s clear by the end of the lengthy prologue though, is that for all the enchantment happening within the story, there’s very little on the screen to hold you enchanted. Marshall may have captured the frisson of a screen musical with confidence, but he can’t escape the tangled vines of James Lapine’s messy script. With so much happening and so many characters to centre on, the film is one that lacks both brevity and focus throughout. It’s an unbearably long-winded affair comprised of bland melodies, boring stories, and brash performances (Meryl Streep & Lilla Crawford eventually become so horribly hammy that their appearances feel like an unbreakable curse).
There is the odd flash of magic, mostly when Chris Pine is on the screen. His charming (but “not sincere”) prince is a playful, panto character that symbolizes what much of the film is aiming towards and ergo acts as a reminder of everything it fails to accomplish. Pine’s musical duet ‘Agony’ (performed atop a waterfall with Billy Magnusson) is a satirical, shirt-ripping highlight that amusingly mocks fairy-tale convention. In stark contrast, many of the other songs are simply humdrum harmonic expositions.
At a squirm-inducing 125 minutes in length, its fair to say that the almost total lack of charm does soon begin to grate. By the time Into The Woods finally reaches its finale, the only wish you’ll have is that it had all finished sooner.