Film review: Into the Woods

Rob Marshall could have delivered a better movie, and certainly one that stuck to the family-holiday script better, had he shaved half an hour off the running time.
Anna Kendrick stars as Cinderella in the film musical Into the Woods. Peter Mountain / Disney Enterprises Inc / AP Photo
Anna Kendrick stars as Cinderella in the film musical Into the Woods. Peter Mountain / Disney Enterprises Inc / AP Photo

Director: Rob Marshall

Starring: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp, Chris Pine, James Corden

Three stars

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas ... There are expensively decorated trees in the malls, Slade are blasting out of the speakers in the local supermarket, and the biggest cinema release of the week is a star-studded Disney musical.

Into the Woods loosely adapts a few of everyone’s favourite fairy tales into an all-singing, all-dancing holiday morality tale, based around the loose message “be careful what you wish for”.

The movie is an adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s 1986 stage musical, though in keeping with its festive, ­family-friendly billing, some of the darker elements have necessarily been removed.

The cast cannot be faulted. Meryl Streep is on typically flawless form as the wicked witch and can reasonably ­expect another Oscar nomination to add to her collection; Emily Blunt’s baker’s wife is an understandable Golden Globe nominee; Johnny Depp’s cameo as the big bad wolf is delightfully hammy and evil; and Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen’s handsome princes are a ­masterclass in camp comedy.

Even James Corden, an actor whose very appearance normally has me throwing the nearest available solid object at the screen, manages not to irritate too much as the childless ­baker.

It’s not clear how much technical assistance went into helping our heroes’ (and villains’) musical numbers, but pretty much all of them lay down ­performances that suggest they could have a successful Broadway career should they tire of Hollywood.

The stories, meanwhile, will be familiar to everyone – Jack grows a beanstalk, Cinderella goes to a ball, Rapunzel lets her hair down. The way the stories intertwine is cleverly crafted, often has hilarious results, and it’s all tremendous fun. For about 90 minutes.

At this point, the movie teases us towards what looks like is about to be a perfect, fairy tale happy ending – then all of a sudden, a third act that seems at best perfunctory is tacked on with no apparent benefit to the film.

It’s not just that the film outstays its welcome – though 124 minutes is rather a long running time for a fairy tale, and definitely a marathon stretch for the thousands of kids that will be taken to see it over the holiday period to sit still.

It’s more that the third act simply wasn’t necessary. It feels as if it’s been tagged on for no other reason than to deliver a vague moral lesson, and to attempt to push the film into “smarter than your average Christmas musical” territory, with debatable success.

True, had the movie ended at the initial false ending it would have been a rather twee affair. But this is a Disney Christmas movie, not the latest from Lars von Trier. I don’t think anyone would have complained at a corny ending – it’s pretty much expected, surely?

Having said all of that, it is still a good movie, and doubtless in the upper quartile of movie musicals too. Sure, it’s no Les Miserables or Moulin Rouge, but it is far from a dud.

It just felt like Rob Marshall could have delivered a better movie, and certainly one that stuck to the family-holiday script better, had he bit the bullet, admitted that this was never going to be as dark as the stage version, and shaved half an hour off the running time.

cnewbould@thenational.ae

Published: December 24, 2014 04:00 AM

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