Friday 26 December 2014

Into The Woods (2014) - Movie Review

The plot: A baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) have been cursed by a witch (Meryl Streep) so that they can never have children. In order to stop the curse, they need to retrieve four items: A cow as white as milk, a hood as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold; but in order to collect them, they run into some rather familiar characters.

Words cannot express how happy I am to see James Corden in a big Hollywood production; the fact that it’s a musical makes it even better. Not only that, he manages to stand well right alongside this pretty high-profile cast list, all of whom do extremely well for the most part. Meryl Streep puts her pipes to better use than the last movie musical she was in (The dog’s breakfast that is Mamma Mia!) and gives her role the kind of screen presence and power that it needs. Emily Blunt, even considering everyone else’s performances, does the best job of any of them in being able to equally act and sing and shows off some impressive singing ability to boot. Lilla Crawford, in her film debut, turns what could have been a rather annoying portrayal of Little Red Riding Hood into a rather endearing scamp.

Chris Pine goes full camp here, with easily one of the funniest musical number performances of the last few years as Prince Charming. Daniel Huttlestone, who did a great job in 2012’s Les Miserables, brings his best to this film also as Jack. Anna Kendricks continues to be the most successful survivor of the Twilight series with a great performance as Cinderella, and Johnny Depp, in a rather weird casting choice for the Wolf, gives major ick factor with some rather… unsettling undertones in his performance of Hello, Little Girl, but nevertheless does well bringing back that voice that helped make Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd as good as it was. Really, the only weak spots I can gleam are Mackenzie Mauzy as Rapunzel and Billy Magnussen as her Prince, and that’s only because they aren’t in a whole lot of the movie despite how beautiful Mauzy’s singing voice is.

In terms of highlights, musically speaking, there are some definite gems in this already jewel-encrusted production: Agony has Pine going all-out and gloriously over-the-top and managing to impress despite my scepticism about his casting; the prologue song is as great as ever, with the entire cast meshing together in a way that sets a great precedent for the rest of the film; Last Midnight, the witch’s big number, has Streep giving the sort of performance that makes careers but is undoubtedly a highlight of her own; and Your Fault, the singular song that shows why Stephen Sondheim is a goddamn genius, is performed with the kind of nimbleness needed for this complex of a singing arrangement.

Now, for the business of the talking the musical itself, and bear in mind that this is my very first experience with the material at all: As Marvel has no doubt shown over the last several years, geeks have a real thing for shared universes; creating a shared universe for Grimm fairy tales, especially with how it is written here, is a great move and very well handled with the meshing of these different tales not only working but also managing to wring some real emotion and heart out of the resulting soup of stories. However, a major sticking point for me, aside from how it felt overlong at times and a couple of plot threads that are left hanging a bit, is the ending. Not only does the ending feel abrupt, it also is more than a little underwhelming and somehow feels like that something got lost in translation from stage to screen. Kind of odd that I’d get this feeling, considering the original creators Sondheim and James Lapine scored and wrote this film respectively, but I’m sure I’ll get confirmation once I seek out the musical proper, which is definitely a good idea if this film is anything to go by.

All in all, this is a very entertaining watch. The cast all do a great job in their roles and manage to balance the acting/singing dynamic that some film musicals seem to inexplicably miss along the way, all backed by Sondheim’s amazing song creations, Lapine’s fantastical script and director Rob Marshall doing very well at tying it all together.

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