INTO THE WOODS (USA/PG/125mins)
Directed by Rob Marshall. Starring Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine, James Corden, Meryl Streep, Joohnny Depp.
THE PLOT: Rob Marshall's musical ties together famous fairytales into one story; the story of a childless Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) who must gather together magical items so a witch (Meryl Streep) can reverse a curse put on their family tree.
THE VERDICT: INTO THE WOODS is based on a Stephen Sondheim musical of the same name, which uses characters from Cinderella, Jack & the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel to tell a single story of characters who are drawn to magical and mysterious woods on at the same time.
The cast is made up of Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep, Chris Pine, Christine Baranski, newcomer Lilla Crawford and Daniel Huttlestone, who was most recently seen on screen in LES MISERABLES. The good news is that the entire cast can sing, and do so well. The chemistry between Blunt and Corden is a joy to behold, Johnny Depp obviously relishes his small but memorable role and Anna Kendrick brings the sweet and innocent as Cinderella. Chris Pine is surprisingly funny and over the top as Cinderella's Prince and Meryl Streep moves away from the matriarchal roles she has done of late, and is on fantastic, mysterious form as the witch.
The story, as mentioned, ties together several fairy tales in which the woods are a common theme. The tie that binds is the Baker and his wife's search for magical items - each from a different fairy tale - and it is a clever way to bring the stories together. The trouble arises after 90 minutes when, although it seems that all is wrapped up, the cast are dragged into the woods once more, and the whole thing begins again. It is obvious this film is an attempt to stay true to the darkness of many original fairy tales, but there are times when all the death and destruction feel out of place with the rest of the film, and characters disappear far too quickly.
As director, Rob Marshall has already proven that he can direct musicals for the screen - successfully in the case of Chicago, and less so in the case of Nine - and it is clear he understands how to make a musical work on screen, and carefully weaves the ensemble together. There are times when the film expects a certain amount of knowledge, since it is a combination of fairy tales, but this means that some of the stories are a little unsatisfying, and others unnecessarily drawn out. Marshall has teased wonderful performances from his cast, which are just the right amount of heightened, but the pacing distracts from the lovely cinematography and the strong cast performances.
In all, INTO THE WOODS could well have been a better movie with better pacing and a clearer focus. As it stands, it is a decent adaptation of a lesser known musical, which looks good and sounds good. Streep, Corden, Blunt and Kendrick shine in this quirky little tale and although the film does not always work, it's a joy to see some familiar faces try something different.
Review by Brogen Hayes