Friday 16th January 2015
The Starling team have been eagerly awaiting the UK cinema release of Into the Woods.
But will they see the woods from the trees?
Anyone who has met me will be amused to know I once had a cameo as 'The Giant' in a stage production of Into the Woods. I'm 5'2''.
Luckily for me, Into The Woods' 'Giant' is usually an offstage part, although in Rob Marshall's new film version, the Giant is physicalised by Frances de la Tour - the first of many decisions I wasn’t mad on (The Giant is supposed to be a bit sassier, I thought..?)
I'm starting to think I would have enjoyed the film more if I didn't already know the show. On screen, the fantasy is Disney-fied, with dark themes diluted, relationships flattened and whole (wonderful) songs cut. In short, the film left me feeling flat. No magic sparks, no gooey warm feeling, just a casual shrug of the shoulders. It's not bad, it's just not as good as it could have been. And I struggle to list how sending the show to the cinema has added anything of any real artistic value; I might even go as far to say that some of the magic has been tainted by the big screen.
I did applaud some of the individual performances. Meryl is, predictably, brilliant, totally present in every scene and chewing on every single witty retort. The blue hair and naff make up was a bit Pat Butcher for my taste but I'll forgive her for the way she ‘gets’ Sondheim’s playful intensity. I liked Anna Kendrick more than I thought I would, as she added a spunky spin to her Cinderella. The Princes gave the best scene in the whole show with 'Agony', ripping shirts and splashing around in a bubbly-looking river, with glossy heads of hair being shaken like horny dogs in a rain storm. It's a shame I didn't sense the same 'zing' between James Corden and Emily Blunt whose relationship felt slapdash. Somewhere, in the cuts and ‘celebritization’, sentiment and sensibility got as lost in the woods as most of the characters.
Another wringer: Why do family films chuck a load of accents into one small region village and expect us not to notice? I just couldn't get my head round the hodge-podge of accents and acting styles. Fantasy it may be, but the woods collecting voices from both sides of the atlantic only contributed to my feeling of befuddlement.
'Shall I see it?' you ask. And despite disagreements with some of the decisions made, I would have to say 'yes' if only to marvel at the musical and lyrical masterpiece that Stephen Sondheim has created. Let the score wash over you, bathe in the wordplay and let me know if you get on with the production better than I did.
Watching a film adaptation of material you’re familiar with is always hard but, for the most part, Rob Marshall got it right with the new film of Into the Woods.
Sondheim’s lush score was thrown into another realm of my appreciation with Jonathan Tunick’s divine orchestrations beautifully creating the land of fairy and asking what happens after ‘Happily Ever After’?
The strong cast - with special nods from me to Emily Blunt, Chris Pine and Meryl Streep - unravelled the story with all the charm, vocal assurance and good humour required of the music and lyrics, but for me the magical moments of the stage show’s book didn’t translate to the screenplay and its delivery leaving me to wonder if it’s a musical that should stay on stage?
I wasn't left feeling as bereft as Emily, but I wanted to leave the cinema skipping and bubbling with inspiration; instead I left feeling like I'd had a cosy couple of hours that could have given me more.
However, any film that brings the work of Stephen Sondheim to the screen and spreads the joy of his genius wit gets my support and I’m delighted Disney backed this project if it means this work, and its message, will reach a younger audience. While Disney may be doing a disservice to the heart of the piece, much of its art is served well and I encourage you to see it too.