INTO THE WOODS (Rob Marshall, 2015)
For a film that is headlined by much star power, INTO THE WOODS is surprisingly dull, joyless, and overlong. The fact that the film adaptation is directed by the same person who wowed us 10 years ago with the Oscar-winning CHICAGO is hard to swallow.
INTO THE WOODS is a mashup of characters from popular fairy tales, and finds Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack (and the beanstalk) on a collision course as one childless couple (played by James Corden and Emily Blunt) journey into the titular woods to have a cursed reversed, which was cast years before by a vengeful witch (Meryl Streep). But while the material yielded tons of potential for conflict and a deconstruction of the characters, the film version suffered from an obvious detachment to its characters' plights. It is hard to retain any emotional attachment with any one character when the plot spirals here and there, only to fall flat in the end.
Unlike previous mashup movie adapatations such as LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN (LXG), which combined characters from various classic novels such as Allan Quatermain (KING SOLOMON'S MINES), Tom Sawyer (THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SWYER), The Invisible Man (THE INVISIBLE MAN), Mina Harker (DRACULA), Captain Nemo (20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA), Dorian Gray (THE PORTRAIT OF DORIAN GRAY), and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE), or Terry Gilliam's 2005 film, and let's not venture further- THE BROTHERS GRIMM, which also combined characters from the Grimm's Fairy Tales, INTO THE WOODS feels more like a Saturday morning kiddie show than a movie. I learned that the original musical is darker and more complex, and perhaps what made the film the mixed bag that it is could be the decision to make it family-friendly. Then again, you can still make a family-friendly musical without overstaying your welcome by about an hour. I swear I almost lost it upon learning of the false resolution of the movie. As it turns out the movie would go on for about 45 minutes more. I WISH... that the film toyed around with the characters more instead of being the dry spectacle that it is.
Some of the songs are catchy, but the rest are more concerned with rhymes for us to give a heck. Anna Kendrick (Cinderella) is a terrific singer as always, and Meryl Streep holds her own, which I cannot say for the rest of the cast. Surprisingly, the young performers Lilla Crawford (Little Red Riding Hood), and Daniel Huttlestone (Jack), who also starred in another musical before (as Gavroche in Tom Hooper's LES MISERABLES adaptation) sing capably as well.
And who here thinks that Johnny Depp seemed out of place in this movie?
In all fairness, I laughed during the scene where the cow would have to eat the slippers, cape, and hair for the curse to be reversed, which might be the only time I enjoyed the movie.
I feel sorry for INTO THE WOODS because it could have been an ingenious film adaptation. Meryl Streep deserved better use of her acting prowess. Anybody could have donned the witch's costume. Rob Marshall, please.
Now that I remember it, Rob Marshall was also responsible for another destruction of a cinematic gem, when he filmed the glossy but empty musical NINE, based on the Broadway musical of the same name, and itself a reimagining of Federico Fellini's masterpiece 8 1/2.
Goodness. Fellini and the Grimm Brothers are probably rolling over in their graves as we speak.