Monday, 5 January 2015


Walt Disney Studios Films

The movie musical was a staple of the golden years of Hollywood but for whatever reason -- rising production values, the increasing popularity of television, the realism of late 1960s-early '70s films -- what was once a flood of song-and-dance films, proceeded by Elvis flicks and Doris Day hits, soon became a sporadic trickle.

But that interest was renewed and the well re-tapped in 2001 with Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge!, and gold-plated the following year when Chicago, an adaptation of the Broadway smash directed by film debutante Rob Marshall, high-kicked its way to the Best Picture Oscar.

A spate of movie musicals have followed in the wake of that Oscar winner with varying degrees of success; a few have even had BP aspirations, most notably Dreamgirls (2006), Sweeney Todd (2007) and Les Miserables (2012). That middle film was an adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical, as is Into The Woods, which sees Rob Marshall returning to the musical after his less than stellar Nine (2009).

An amalgam of fairy tales including Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood, Into The Woods is a cautionary tale about dreaming big, beyond your means and above your station; the engine driving the narrative is a baker and his wife's (James Corden and Emily Blunt) desire to be parents and the witch (Meryl Streep) who sets them the challenge of retrieving items that will help reverse an infertility curse cast upon their house (one which the witch herself did cast).

So into the woods the baker and his wife go, on a scavenger hunt to retrieve the necessary four items: a blood red cape belonging to Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), a glass slipper belonging to Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), a lock of golden hair thanks to Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), and a milky white cow which just happens to belong to Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), on his way to trade the beast -- and his BFF -- for some beans.

Throw in a couple of vainglorious princes (Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen's duelling duet atop a waterfall is the film's high point), a lascivious wolf (Johnny Depp), and a widowed giant (Frances de la Tour), and you have what amounts to a pantomime which, though performed well and intermittently entertaining, is neither substantial or affecting. And it's doubtful that anyone other than Sondheim fans will be able to recall any of the songs.

Emily Blunt, having a good year after Edge of Tomorrow, is best-in-show and Streep is, of course, strong (those put off by memories of 2008's Mamma Mia! need not fear: Meryl's been practising). The rest of the cast are solid, too, but Marshall can only manage to make things entertaining in spits and spurts, while the third act -- an epilogue to the usual 'happily ever after' of fairy tales -- is a bit of a jumble.

It's doubtful the fate of the Hollywood musical is dependent on the success of Into The Woods, but a happy ending at the box office will certainly encourage those producers and directors thinking of mounting film versions of Broadway hits, especially those who had their doubts following Jersey Boys, Clint Eastwood's D.O.A. foray into the genre in 2014. Compared to that bum note, Into The Woods is a magical experience.

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