"Into the woods without delay, be careful not to lose the way."
Given that this year they own the distributing rights to so many massive franchises such as Star Wars and Marvel, Disney want to be sure that they can pull off a darker story to convince the fans that their own beloved franchise’s will not be effected by new ownership. Adapting the 1986 stage musical Into the Woods seems like a good place to start.
Various characters from the Grimm fairy tales meet on a series of intertwining tales overlooked by a baker and his wife as they seek to undo a witches’ curse. Basically it’s the Pulp Fiction of fairy tales. They encounter many characters such as Jack (from the beanstalk) little riding hood (of the red variety) and Cinderella (you’ve heard of that).
Sadly I am not accustomed to the stage musical, though I probably should have researched it for a review, regardless though I am aware that many fans of the musical were worried that some of the adult content might be affected by the Disney treatment. From what I can understand there have been some small changes to the story but for the most part they remain faithful to the source material, even the more mature elements. While there is an uncomfortable song from Johnny Depp with some fairly obvious sex references that’s bound to upset some parents, if you’re comfortable with that then you’ll find it very enjoyable.
Speaking of Depp, it’s good to see him step back a bit here. In the Lone Ranger he was rather forced into the central role rather than the title character, but here he stays in his place no longer than is necessary, as do all of the other actors. While Chris Pine is debatably the biggest current star of the film he has a relatively small role compared to other, smaller stars. But he plays it brilliantly, adopting an arrogant, but still very fun, persona. He’s definitely not the classic Disney prince, but certainly the most entertaining.
To the three leads, James Corden and Emily Blunt are both wonderful in their roles. Though they are not the outspoken characters of the film they are essential to its tone and nature, tying the stories together and providing that human link. Like I said before, currently Pine is probably the biggest star, but if you mean of all time and space, then that would have to be the legendary Meryl Streep. Who knew she could sing? I mean, I would have assumed she’d be good if I thought about it, but I never did prior to Into the Woods, and now she is and it is brilliant. A true outspoken, charismatic, yet sympathetic witch who is also essential as she provides an all knowing, set in motion, feel to the story.
Into the Woods also has that slightly gritty but a remaining enduring feel thanks to director Rob Marshall. The problem is that this does feel like a stage show put on film. The whole appeal of theatre is that you’re that close to the spectacle that every detail can be pivotal. Films have to stretch a bit more to break through that thicker fourth wall and as a result, by following the play, the film appears to be slightly underwhelming at times. It needs to put on more of a spectacle to stand out and create a magical feel, but then again maybe that was the intention, the lessen that vibe. But for me it feels slightly unfinished by the end.
Aside from that though, Into the Woods is an immensely likable and charming Disney tale. If they wanted to convince me that they could be darker when they need to be, they succeeded, if they wanted to show me that they can still connect with their original magic, they proved that as well.