Musical, Reviews

Into the Woods

Into The Woods

Copyright © 2014 by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

A baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) yearn for a baby but are informed by a witch (Meryl Streep) they are barren because of a curse she put on the baker’s family when his father stole an assortment of greens from her garden due to his mother’s pregnancy cravings. Not realising his father has taken her magic beans, the witch is hexed from a startling beauty into a hideous hag. To lift both spells, she has entrusted the couple to acquire a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold for her in three days’ time. If they fail, they will forever remain childless.

The cinematic version of Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award winner has arrived through a faithful reworking from director Rob Marshall whose debut ‘Chicago’ revived an almost extinct genre with extraordinary acting, cherished tunes and deadpan humour are all present in his third foray in the movie musical (‘Annie’ does not really count) after losing steam in the tedious ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, unfocused ‘Nine’ and derivative ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides’.

The frontrunner now in remaking existing children’s fables with a twist (‘Alice in Wonderland’, ‘Maleficent’ and the forthcoming ‘Cinderella’), it does appear like a natural progression that Disney be the one charged in updating this mishmash of classic fairy tales to a generation unfamiliar by Sondheim’s work (‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ did try mainstreaming his composition with an A-list actor and director but the results were moderately fruitful).

Following in the footsteps of ‘Les Misérable’, ‘Into the Woods’ is on course to be another profitable venture and second consecutive win for Streep after her stint in ‘Mamma Mia!’ yielded her the biggest hit of the 65-year-old’s 44-year career. Unlike the Abba-inspired numbers, the original songs are wordy and the recurring melody could sound repetitious after a while. There is no hesitation though that you will find yourself humming to tracks like the titular opening sequence, ‘Agony’, ‘On the Steps of the Palace’ and ‘Your Fault’.

Earning her a 19th nomination in the Academy Awards, extending her record-setting total as the most nominated actor in history, Streep is an enjoyment as the witch with a grudge. She is immensely different and does it with aplomb that it is easy to overlook how Bernadette Peters and Donna Murphy were once legends in their own right. While the stage queens opt for flamboyance, Streep alleviates it with a touch of class but her crooning in ‘Last Midnight’ is merely adequate and not gratifying enough.

Looking repellent and radiant, thanks to splendid artistry from Peter Swords King and J. Roy Helland, Streep’s finesse is only rivaled by Blunt’s compassionate mother-to-be, Corden’s calculating yet affable hero and Chris Pine’s ostentatious Prince Charming. He does get a run for his money in Anna Kendrick nearly knocking him off his pedestal as the enticing runaway girlfriend. Proverbial costume designer, Colleen Atwood’s medieval wear is a feast for the eyes specifically bewitching are the witch’s blue dress and Cinderella’s sparkly garb.

As magnificent as the revered golden shoe, the decision to sanitise the risqué parts does come at a price. Appealing to a younger crowd of Sondheim’s splendour and wit is not only commercially savvy, it also functions as an outlet in reinstating the musical’s declining quality of late. The revised darkness eludes numerous themes (tweaks in plot and lyrics may perturb adult devotees) but statements of growing up, parental responsibilities and infidelity are still intact. I only wish that it is more fulfilling than being just right.

Entirety: B+
Acting: A
Plot: A-

Rated PG for thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material