In recent years we have seen an uprising of musical to film adaptations; we’ve had Sweeney Todd, Les Miserables and now Into The Woods. As a big theatre and musicals fan, this new trend gives me great pleasure when a show I love is done well on screen, which is certainly the case for James Lapine and Rob Marshall’s re-imagining of Into The Woods.
Into The Woods was originally written by screenwriter, Lapine, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The show is a retelling of several Brothers Grimm fairytale characters, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, an assortment of dashing princes, a wicked witch and a Baker plus his wife.
Into The Woods is very much a story of two halves, but Lapine does well to link the two sections together sans interval. Furthermore, serious credit to him for getting the show down to 2 hrs; any longer would have been too much for its certification and, despite some necessary cuts to the story and score, the film still very much presents his and Sondheim’s original piece.
This film has something the stage cannot quite muster to such an extent; a massive celebrity draw. Here we have massive names in showbiz such as Jonny Depp, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine and Meryl Streep, whom we already know would fulfill the vocal elements of the role after putting in a sterling job as Donna in Mamma Mia (2008.) Luckily there is no Russell Crow style elephant in the room here as, yes, this cast can all sing very well. Particular highlights include the larger cast numbers such as the Prologue (and prologue reprise as they all venture to the woods) and the snappy “Your Fault,” which was filled with excellent comic timing. Emily Blunt’s rendition of “Moment’s In The Wood’s” was a stand out ballad.
My one complaint with the music, having seen Les Miserables present the score so beautifully on screen, is that the lip syncing here is a bit too obvious for my taste. There would be times that actors or actresses would be using their vibrato, or just giving it some power in general and this did not reflect in their bodies on screen. I would have liked to have seen some more strain!
Overall the casting is pretty solid and, despite very much being an ensemble piece, each actor and actress is given their chance to shine. One slight downside was the early demise of poor Jonny Depp as the ill-fated wolf, but he certainly managed to put his trademark sultry yet spooky stamp on his part.
It was great to see some fantastic talent from the world of the West End stage taking up smaller roles in this show such as Lucy Punch (Great Britain) as Cinderella’s step sister, Lucinda and Joanna Riding ( The Pajama Game, Stephen Ward) as her vocally glorious deceased mother.
One of my favourite elements to the film, that again could not be replicated on the stage, is the glorious setting. Rivers, mountains, castles; this film felt very much like the real deal. I wouldn’t go as far as saying the show was “Disney-fied” as some were expecting, as the setting still very much had an eerie feel.
On the topic of “Disney-fying,” Into The Woods is intended to be a darkly comic re-imagination of fairytales by Brothers Grimm. Whilst a few elements, such as Red Riding Hood’s sexual awakening, have been edited to be a bit more child friendly, the show still very much is a more twisted take on some of our much beloved tales. The story presents the fabled characters as more 3 dimensional beings that make mistakes and need to live with the repercussions; a much more important message than happily ever after.
Overall there is some serious talent on display in Into The Woods. The film very much looks the part and I can certainly imagine that it will inspire and entertain children and adults alike.
Into The Woods opens in UK Cinemas on January 9th 2015.