BWW Reviews: The Visually and Aurally Impressive Movie Adaptation of Sondheim's INTO THE WOODS
Monday 29th December 2014, Event Cinema George Street Sydney
Whilst INTO THE WOODS has been released in America, some lucky Australian audiences have been treated to previews ahead of the 8 January Australian release date.
For those that aren't familiar with the story, INTO THE WOODS takes four well-known Grimm story tales learnt in youth and weaves them together with a new story of The Baker and His Wife. The characters from Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel and Cinderella, along with the Baker and his wife all cross paths as they each seek out something they want and wish for with a liberal dose of fairy-tale magic thrown in. INTO THE WOODS revisits these stories with grown up eyes and questions the consequences of the greed, desire, lust, deceit, and revenge that fuelled the wishes and wants.
The casting, which was the subject of a lot of conversation in the lead up to the movie, works well. There is a blend of English and American performers which has led to a variety of accents which serve to keep the story in a "Far off Kingdom". Whilst some of the actors are not necessarily known for their musical background, the singing does not disappoint. Anna Kendrick (Cinderella) handles the complex On The Steps Of The Palace with a balance of understanding and humour. Johnny Depp (The Wolf), as a dapper suited cross between a human and a wolf, delivers a sinister Hello, Little Girl, but the sexualised nature has been toned down but still has elements of the stranger with treats that every mother warns her child about. The Witch loses some of the impact of the original as Rapunzel's (MacKenzie Mauzy) storyline is changed but Meryl Streep's performance of Stay with Me shows the Witch's tenderness and love for her child. It is a relief that Lilla Crawford was eventually cast a Little Red Riding Hood although her stage background is evident in some of her delivery. Christine Baranski, Tammy Blanchard and Lucy Punch provide a great comic element as Cinderella's stepmother and stepsisters. Chris Pine (Cinderella's Prince) and Billy Magnussen (Rapunzel's Prince) deliver a hilarious Agony.
In addition to Sondheim's witty lyrics, there appears to be more dialogue in the movie version which allows for some clever lines that has the audience roaring with laughter and allows the characters to poke fun at each other. The costuming from the opulent gowns of the Stepmother and stepsisters to the Jack's mother's rags is detailed and makeup and wigs have transformed Streep in to a gnarled old witch.
The magic of cinema does allow for additional scenes and producers Rob Marshall, John DeLuca, Marc Platt and Callum McDougall flesh out the plot with the scenery and illustrate flashbacks that aren't as easy on stage. They have however drawn on some of the design from the stage and Colleen Atwood has chosen to keep the Wolf as more human than canine.
The darkness and mysteriousness of the woods has been retained and thankfully any though of making this "Disney shiny" has been reigned in. Fans of the stage show may be a little disappointed by the changing of some of the plots and a little watering down of the not so family friendly themes and removal of a few songs but for the most part, the movie stays true to the original.
Whilst INTO THE WOODS deals with some challenging concepts, it is still appropriate for the whole family as the story is layered so the deeper, darker themes may be missed by younger audiences, but if children do understand them, this is a good way to explore them.