Into the Woods is Disney’s first adaptation of a Broadway musical, adding to a continuous trend from the studio to be more subversive, as following on from the huge hit Frozen comes another production that takes a more human and pragmatic approach to the world of make-believe, while again giving the female characters more of a presence, and a voice. Into the Woods may survive off the enchantment of our favourite fairy-tales, but this is by no means a “happily ever after” affair.
Meryl Streep plays the Witch, who sets a humble Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) on a mission of tracking down a series of seemingly unfeasible items for her to put into a potion that will reverse the spell that has been cursing their family for years – disallowing the couple the ability to bear children. On this wondrous night in the woods, the Baker encounters Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) who is hoping to win the heart of the Prince (Chris Pine), as well as Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) and Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), needing all of their assistance along the way.
With director Rob Marshall at the helm – the man who brought us Chicago, now working with a collection of songs composed by the legend that is Stephen Sondheim, this project was in safe hands. What transpires is a film that manages to balance the profound, human elements of the narrative – such as the couple’s longing for a child – with the more fantastical and magical aspects; making for a distinctly memorable experience. There is a tongue-in-cheek feeling prevalent also, with Pine in particular epitomising this notion with a wonderful comical performance, while Streep is at her most hammy – and it’s a joy to behold.
However, the film does lose its way in the latter stages, as it becomes clear that this is based on a stage play: with a palpable moment where we can tell the second act is to begin – which is when it steadily heads downhill. The story always continues on in the songs though, such is the strength and wit to these sharp, flowing lyrics. However, and as Shakespearian as they may be in verse, sadly there isn’t the melody to match, which is the film’s greatest shortcoming. Considering this is a musical, the lack of strength in the musical numbers proves to be something of an issue.