Into The Woods (2014)
Dir: Rob Marshall
Academy Award Nominations: Supporting Actress. Costume Design. Production Design.
This film proves that serious trouble can be caused by vegetables because your 5-a-day won’t keep the witch away!
A baker (James Corden ‘Begin Again’) and his wife (Emily Blunt ‘Edge of Tomorrow’) just want to have a bun in the oven, but witch-next-door (Meryl Streep) has a long-standing curse on their house that prevents them from conceiving. In order to have it lifted, the couple must gather a list of items for their neighbour, which will lead them into contact with fairytale characters Red Riding Hood, Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Jack (of beanstalk fame) and many more, telling the story through a mix of song and occasional dialogue.
Disney are the ones who have finally helped this popular musical reach the big screen, with its fairytale characters it fits their remit well and though they also released ‘Maleficent’ this year there’s room for both films as the musical aspect sets them far apart. I did have to wonder a little though, despite previous attempts, why hadn’t this been adapted sooner?
The questing premise is clearly established early on in the film, as the situation is explained we can instantly see how things will all converge with the characters. These fairytale characters are portrayed in a way that is closer to the original Grimm style, with edges and darker sides. For example, Red riding hood is a cheeky thief which could be seen as her being a mischievous little girl, or as the Baker better sees her, as pilfering their livelihood. The main Prince (Chris Pine) isn’t fully redeemed by his charm, he’s an idiot for a number of reasons, firstly he claims to love a woman he danced with multiple nights but can’t recognise on sight, secondly he doesn’t realise that its possible for more than one girl to have the same sized feet, and there’s a third reason, but that would be a spoiler.
Some quite bizarre sequences are shown especially when characters are recounting something in song that we didn’t see as it happened. There are also some fun elements, I really liked the novel way that the Baker’s wife helps deal with Rapunzel’s split ends, and how the Prince’s brother (also a prince) notices that she’d changed her hair, girls love that! Also interesting is how the movie feels like it’s come to a conclusion just over half way through, then things get quite literally shaken up.
There’s a large ensemble cast, featuring a mix of large and smaller stars that could prove an attraction to many. For me, Anna Kendrick is often a sign of a film I could enjoy, especially when singing, though I do prefer her vocal side in ‘Pitch Perfect’ as she’s a bit too shrill at times in this though she still has a gorgeous voice. Director Rob Marshall is known for his previous musicals such as the original ‘Annie’, ‘Chicago’, and some may even remember ‘Nine’. Clearly, when you approach actors for a musical and say that he’s directing, it carries a great amount of clout. This is ambitious to say the least, and he deserves credit where it’s due for getting it to the screen in style, though sadly the overlong gestation has meant that many of the distinctive elements that once made this a fresh take on fairytales, have since been utilised in things such as ‘Shrek’ and all its many sequels and spin-offs.
Personally, I judge if a musical movie is successful by whether I go home and buy the soundtrack and then play it on repeat for the next week. That’s essentially happened with ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, then even with ‘Inside Llewyn Davis‘ last year and a few months ago with ‘Begin Again‘. Yesterday in my house I could be heard blasting (and singing passionately along to) ‘Listen’, from ‘Dreamgirls’! That’s not to say this is a complete failure, I did enjoy it a fair amount while I was watching, but I’m not feeling the desperate urge to see it again soon, none of the songs stuck in my head enough to go on constant repeat, though I listened to a bit of ‘No One is Alone’ the other day.
The AFI named this as one of their best 11 films of 2014, I’m a little surprised by this. The other 10 are very understandable inclusions that stand out from among the years releases (and all are on the Oscar list), but I didn’t think this was quite as remarkable as them at all. It made an excellent profit at the box-office though, so there’s no doubt Disney will partner with Rob Marshall again, hopefully his next musical will be something a bit more impressive.