Review – Into the Woods, the film

Wednesday 17 December 2014

ITW_1-Sht_v18_LgWho ever thought they’d see a film where Annette Crosbie is eaten alive by Johnny Depp?

Then again who ever thought we’d write about a film? Yes, a bit out of our comfort zone this, reviewing a trip to the flicks. Though the comfort of most picture houses is far greater than almost any theatre seat.

But since this cinematic entertainment is based on the Stephen Sondheim stage musical that Phil has seen about half a dozen times in various forms, including the original Broadway and London productions he just wanted to show off. He saw a preview of Into the Woods a week ago and frustratingly has been sitting on a most uncomfortable embargo ever since.

Mind you, if you should find yourself in South Korea on 24th December you can see it there ahead of the world. Or if you are in the USA on the 25th (who goes to the cinema on Christmas Day?). The musical aficionados of Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine must be girding their loins for the 29th. Heck, even Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Vietnam, Kenya, Romania, South Africa, Australia, Czech Republic and the Republic of Macedonia get it before it opens here on January 9th. Strange really, you’d think they’d have whipped it out earlier. Perhaps Disney sought to avoid an overcrowded Christmas market.

After several previous attempts to get a film of Sondheim’s complex and overlong intermingling of various fairy tales, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel it’s finally happened and with a rather starry cast. Though it is even more intriguing to see who was nearly in it. If this is a success there’s only one left in the Sondheim cannon that might possibly make it to celluloid. Follies anyone? Tricky. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel factor might suggest there is an older audience out there. We’re gagging to see a bunch of old broads negotiating a steep Follies staircase.

With no noticeably weak links in the cast, people not normally associated with singing, prove surprisingly tuneful. Sadly there’s no so-bad-they’re-hilarious Pierce Brosnans on display here. Meryl Streep gives good Witch and with a Golden Globe nomination already under her belt, yet another Academy Award nod seems inevitable, especially since she occasionally reminded Phil of Margaret Thatcher on a very bad hair day.

But it was Emily Blunt (also Globe-approved) who particularly caught Phil’s eye. Which is not an allusion to a grim, or perhaps Grimm, piece of violence in the film, though there are some pretty nasty goings on in the story – actually one of these does involve eyes – though the camera pulls away from all of them, presumably to avoid a restrictive film classification.

Blunt plays the wife of James Corden‘s Baker, cursed to be childless by Meryl as the Baker’s father (Simon Russell Beale) was caught misappropriating some magic beans from her garden. Only a trip into the crowded woods to collect a series of fairy tale-themed items (the cape as red as blood, the slipper as pure as gold etc) will undo the spell. It’s almost a I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here! task with oaks replacing palms trees, and even a rather unpleasant eating challenge for a milky-white cow.

A couple of Princes, one for Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy), one for Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), cavort in a waterfall singing the show/film’s funniest number “Agony”. Chris Pine‘s Prince Charming does vanity and insincerity very amusingly and proves vocally impressive. He also get’s the best line of dialogue (screenplay by James Lapine, adapted from his original book for the show), which unsurprisingly is spoiled by appearing in the film’s trailer.

It takes a little while to adjust to such a theatrical piece with all the warbling but Phil went along with it fairly quickly; it will definitely help if you’re familiar with the score. Jonny Depp‘s “Hello, Little Girl” number – in which he attempts to lure Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford, excellent) into a Yewtreehouse – seems even pervier in big screen close ups, and we’d probably never have accepted his appearance as a “human” version of a wolf if it hadn’t been for Cats.

The wonderful Christine Baranski has her moments as Cinderella’s stepmother, Tracey Ullman plays Jack’s mother and Phil wasn’t expecting to (almost) see Frances de La Tour as the Lady Giant. But you will now, as Phil’s spoilt it for you.

Red Riding Hood seems strangely disbelieving that Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) has climbed a beanstalk and seen giants and that Cinderella can talk to birds if you consider that she and her Grandmother have just been gobbled up by a man dressed as a wolf, cut out of his stomach, not only alive, but without a drop of blood or offal on their clothing.

Seeing it on the big screen did concentrate Phil’s wandering mind to quibble about a couple of the songs. “No One Is Alone” is a bit of a sweeping statement; of course some people are alone! And “Children Will Listen” proves that this was written well before the invention of the iphone.

And while Phil’s being pedantic, why, since the Prince has a lot of balls and has danced with Cinderella night after night, does he struggle to find the person who fits the golden slipper? Does he suffer from prosopagnosia? And couldn’t two people possibly share the same shoe size?

Phil would have preferred more of it to be filmed on Tim Burton-styled sets rather than some of enhanced realistic English locations chosen, but then he grew up in the English countryside. Perhaps in Vietnam or Kenya it will seem more exotic and enchanting. And couldn’t they have given Streep a prosthetic nose? Didn’t Nicole Kidman have a spare Virginia Woolf hooter she could have purloined?

Despite these quibbles, director Rob Marshall tells the intricacies of the story with more clarity than sometimes seen in stage versions. Events are kept zipping along by editing it down to a more manageable length (2 hours) than the original show and it largely deals with the problems of the tricky second act, which tends to ramble on, by cutting some of it.

Probably a hard one to sell in the multiplexes, let alone Papua New Guinea. The Stephen Sondheim Society must be moist for it; Phil’s eyes certainly were by he end.


7 Responses to “Review – Into the Woods, the film”

  1. Billy Says:

    What next? Will WEW be reviewing restaurants? Trusses?

  2. Jon88 Says:

    Sondheim’s “cannon”? Watch out where he might be pointing it! And for the record, Christmas Day movie-going is a big tradition, at least among New Yorkers and non-Christians.

  3. Simon Parris Says:

    Wonderul review Phil.
    A similarly torturous embargo applied to reviews in Australia, where the release date is also a Christmas afterthought at 8 January.
    Agree that Cinderella’s Prince has the best line, although the narrator’s comment comparing the day of eating by Red Riding Hood and the Wolf is a close second!

  4. seejaybe Says:

    Follies could be superb on the big screen – and what great opportunities for the stars of yesteryear to shine once again. Bring it on!

    • Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

      Wish they’d done it a few years ago when there were some real stars left, but if they get a wiggle on perhaps a part for Debbie Reynolds?

  5. johnnyfox Says:

    Maybe they’ll film the upcoming Albert Hall one with Roy Hudd and Anitas Harris AND Dobson. That should be straight-to-video …

  6. glenmoranjie Says:

    I thought it was brilliant – drama, tension and a heart rending finale. James Cordon continues to grow in my humble estimation, (and I used to REALLY dislike him.) It looked amazing.

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