Thursday, 8 January 2015

Film review: Into the Woods



As a lover of both screen and stage entertainment, combining the two into one has always appealed tremendously to my inner musical theatre geek. Adapting a stage production for cinema viewing doesn't always work – after all, you lose the intimate connection with the actors which makes going to the theatre such a special experience – but when it does, it can be glorious musical perfection (see Les Misérables).

So when I learned that Disney (something else I'm already not so secretly geeky about) was turning the Stephen Sondheim and James Lapin magical musical Into the Woods into a movie, starring some of my favourite actors nonetheless, I was sold before the first teaser to the teaser trailer had even hit the web. And after many months of anticipation, racking up the view count to the official trailer on YouTube by several dozen in the last week alone, seeing the wondrous story unfold on the big screen did not disappoint.

First things first, I should admit that while normally I'm an advocate for reading a book before seeing the film, and so seeing the theatre production before seeing the cinematic adaptation, despite my best efforts I've never actually seen Into the Woods on stage. So I can't compare the film to the source material; I don't know how well the original version translated to the screen or what – if anything – has been changed to cater to a different and more global audience. All I can say is that I hope that the book and music have stayed true to the original, because from what I've seen on the big screen it is phenomenal, and I can only imagine how impressive it would be to see this being performed live on stage.


Into the Woods tells the story of a whole slew of famous fairytale characters, who keep running into each other in the woods until eventually their individual tales cleverly entangle into one wondrous adventure.

The main focus is on the Baker (James Corden) and the Baker's Wife (Emily Blunt), who due to a curse from the Witch-Next-Door (Meryl Streep) can't have a baby. Lucky for them, the witch is willing to reverse the curse if the baker and his wife will just collect four magical items for her before the blue moon, which is to appear in three midnights. The fantastical scavenger hunt leads them to Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) for a golden slipper, Little Red Riding Hood (Lila Crawford) for her red cape, Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) for a bit of her hair as yellow as corn, and Jack from the beanstalk (Daniel Huttlestone) for his milky white cow.

Despite the large cast of characters (there are even more main ones than mentioned above), each of the leads had plenty of chance to shine. And shine they did. There wasn't a single person I was most impressed by, but I did particularly love Emily Blunt, who knew she could sing and so beautifully at that?; Anna Kendrick, getting back to her Broadway roots with some fantastic solo numbers; James Corden, whose performance was both the comedic highlight and at times immensely moving; Meryl Streep, who has come leaps and bounds as a singer since Mama Mia!; and Chris Pine, who was effortlessly charming (though not sincere) and swoon-worthy in his turn as one of the two princes roaming around the woods.

I also want to give a special mention to young Lilla Crawford who was simply sensational in her solos. I was fortunate enough to catch her in the titular role of Annie on Broadway and I still remember her stunning rendition of Tomorrow. She was breathtaking then and she's only gotten better since.


The excellent cast aside, Sondheim can be an acquired taste at the best of times but the music to Into the Woods is catchy, whimsical and absolutely magical. Particular highlights were the Prologue, which instantly transported me to the fairytale land while cleverly introducing all the characters in a single song; On The Steps of the Palace, a beautifully shot sequence in which Anna Kendrick really shows off her singing chops; and Agony, a hugely amusing scene featuring the two princes showing off their charms – and abs. There wasn't a weak piece of music in the film, but these three really stood out to me.

Simply put, Into the Woods was magical, unexpected and so very wonderful. The new year has only just begun but I do believe I have already seen one of my top films of 2015, which is a promising way to kick off a fresh year of new cinematic and theatrical experiences.



Into the Woods is playing in cinemas across the UK from 9 January 2015. 


Many thanks to Laughing Buddha and Disney for tickets to an advanced screening of the film in exchange for an honest review.



1 comment:

  1. This film looks like a lot of fun, I'm glad you enjoyed it! :) Great, in depth review too, you didn't give much away but it was very informative all the same! I think I'll be checking this out at some point!

    - Wattle @ Whimsical Nature

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