Rob Marshall’s big screen treatment of Stephen Sondheim’s lavish, long musical, Into The Woods, brings a sterling cast into fairytale terrain; where the stories of Cinderella, Rapunzel and Red Riding Hood merge in an uplifting, if excessive family film.
It’s a Marvel universe for the musically-minded; Red Riding Hood dares Jack to climb his beanstalk and retrieve the harp, Prince Charming makes eyes at the Baker’s Wife. All strands of the story, loosely inspired by Grimm’s fairy tales, are woven together by Meryl Streep’s gnarled witch and a desperate attempt to break a curse.
The casting is impeccable, if a little comfortable, for the ensemble. James Corden, who starred in both the West End and Broadway versions of the musical, is a welcome contribution to the Hollywood cast, and nurtures some of the more tender scenes that are thrown into the chaos. Emily Blunt as his wife is also a treat, proving through her recent sci-fi and comedy ventures that she can tackle any genre commendably.
The real surprise however is Chris Pine. Perhaps the least musically-trained of the cast, his Prince Charming is a thing of almost unbearable joy to behold. Channelling a heady mix of James Marsden in Enchanted against Jemaine Clement-type vocals and an arrogance reminiscent of Matt Berry, Pine is a scene-stealing delight.
At 125 minutes, segments of Into The Woods become somewhat flabby. Marshall makes an admirable attempt to hack out great portions from the play while keeping the narrative arcs intact, but there is still the occasional inward sigh as Jack or a princess launches into yet another number about decisions or the tribulations of life. Resolutions to several of the character’s individual stories in turn are unsatisfying, with more fading away than burning out.
The dedication of the cast however is undeniable. Anna Kendrick‘s alto performance is effortless, and even as branches of the story start to feel tired they’re at least carried with gusto. Fans of the musical will no doubt be thrilled with Marshall’s dedication to the original stage production, while those who grow impatient can at least say they enjoyed a series of powerful performances and a strong selection of Sondheim’s heartening, accessible songs.