Debuting in 1986, James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s stage musical Into the Woods has been enduringly popular. Combining elements from various Grimm fairy tales, the mix of fantasy, horror and music has appealed.
With the current obsession with all things fantastic, it was a given Hollywood would soon come knocking. Filled with an excellent cast, tight direction and stirring melodic arrangements, Into the Woods fits the bill in providing enchanting escapism.
When a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) learn they have been cursed childless by a witch (Meryl Streep), they aim to set things right. Journeying into the mysterious forest where the witch resides, they must find objects that will break the curse. Encountering Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) and others during their quest, their task is made harder by the witch’s machinations. Learning about responsibility and the power of wishes, the duo set forth on an epic and bedazzling adventure
Unlike recent movie musicals, Into the Woods achieves the right balance of story and song. As characters sing about their predicaments, their tunes allow the tale to briskly move along. Graced with a strong cast embracing their roles with gusto, Into the Woods is a very delectable treat. Whilst moments are predictable, the actors never over-play them, with Streep and company enjoying the challenge. They equip themselves admirably during the musical numbers and remember to have fun as well.
Director Rob Marshall is an old hand in this genre, having overseen Nine and Chicago film adaptations. He does it well as he ensures the visuals match the story’s grandiose sweep. Managing to avoid the confined ‘stagey feel’ that often drags down similar works, Marshall successfully utilises the many locations Into the Woods requires. The blend of storybook vistas with dark, brooding spaces are finely melded as the many colours on display mirror the multiple turmoils the characters face.
Entertaining while imparting its messages, Into the Woods is a fine stage to screen adaptation. Fans should be pleased with its aim for quality, which is more than achieved.
Into the Woods opens in cinemas across Australia on 8 January 2015
Reviewed by Patrick Moore
Rating out of 10: 8