Rob Marshall delivers a wonderfully theatrical production of Stephen Sondheim and James Alpine's Into the Woods for film. With an all star cast this film does not disappoint. A true balance of music, character and style.
In 1987, Stephen Sondheim and James Alpine delivered us a different version of a fairytale. Deeply comic, heartwarming and at times satirical, this stage production had everything and more and quickly became a firm favourite. In the works for a few years, Disney eventually found the perfect team to handle this in movie-musical skilled duo with Rob Marshall directing and John Deluca as producer. The two have taken an a theatre favourite, given it an all star cast and managed to sustain the integrity of the original production.
Movie musicals are few and far between and the reason is that it is often difficult to balance techniques from the stage and film. Rob Marshall, who famously adapted Chicago is an old hand by this point and with Into the Woods he really proves this. Into the Woods centres around iconic fairytale characters who all live around a wood and each have different trials. Undoubtedly the most compelling, however is James Corden as the baker and his wife (Emily Blunt) as they desperately try to break the spell of the witch (Meryl Streep) in order to have a child. Corden not only displays an incredible vocal range but also conveys a vulnerability and complexity we haven’t witnessed of the comedian and Tony award winner so far.
The film is indeed a musical in every sense of the word with songs frequently appearing. However, cleverly Marshall has realised that film cannot sustain endless ballads the way the stage can and so cleverly intersperses them and plays with the timeline to allow for comic moments to break up any sense of monotony. A particular favourite is a song called ‘Agony’, sung by two princes over their unrequited loves including a waterfall and, of course, chest baring. The first half of the film as with the original first act conveys traditional fairytale plot lines but always hints at new and emerging modern thinking. The second half/act is vastly different and highlights what makes this story so special. Into the Woods provides layers to fairytales and blurs the lines between good and bad, calling into question judgement and circumstance.
Cinematically this film is a cornucopia of sounds, colours and amazing sets and costumes. The production, it seems, has spared no expense and created a believable world with quite a few nods at the original stage production. A particular occurrence of this is the meeting of Johnny Depp as the big bad wolf, and when he exits the scene does so with a casting a shadow and being doused in an overhead spotlight – and even with the appearance of a giant, the production creates an allusion of height with slight appearances and shadows. Not since Alice In Wonderland have Disney produced such a powerful unknown world that is both believable and yet other; though this movie is considerably better handled with character being the forerunner. This truly is a perfect balance of substance and style.
Ultimately though, what makes this fairytale so magnificent is its grit. The film shocks and stuns with deep complex characters and even high-profile deaths. Eventually building to a climax, the movie breaks into its most powerful song ‘No One is Alone’ and here the message of the film is clear. This fairytale casts doubt on everything we know and highlights that good can be bad and bad can be good. Nothing is certain, but it is all about how you handle life and also, though we deal with loss, we are never truly alone. The movie addresses life with a deep realism, even in a fairytale setting.
Stunning and clever, this film is deeply witty but throughout carries a deep message that appeals to both adults and children. This film has the power to create great laughter and cause tears and through this Into the Woods classifies itself as the new Disney classic.
Into the Woods, directed by Rob Marshall is released in UK cinemas on December 25th by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Certificate PG.