Skip to content

Into The Woods, the film.

February 18, 2015

I already enjoy the Digital Theatre version of this musical, captured live at the definitive Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production, and was a huge fan of the original London production. Thus I made a rare venture into the cinema to see how Disney magic could make Sondheim’s shape up.

First jolt is the literal approach film requires. There isn’t room, in the mass audience required to make a movie pay, for subtlety. And this is as subtle as a giant’s footprint – and about as imaginative.

That isn’t to say it doesn’t look the part. The woods, village and castle are fairy-tale precise. It’s just that whereas stage versions have inventive fun with the setting, costumes and characters, the film has to be conventional.

So, second jolt is that Jack and Little Red Riding Hood are children. The stage version, and the songs the characters sing are full of sly observations about maturing, heightened by being sung by twenty-something performers. The frission of sexuality between Jack and Giantess and Red and Wolf are spices to season the blandness. All lost here, though the songs are performed nicely enough as earnest plot-movers.

Third jolt is Meryl Streep’s witch. In an already magical land, she almost has little to do. An already shortened libretto means her hold on proceedings is diminished, while, if we are being honest, her voice isn’t perhaps at its strongest either when tackling Sondheim. Sadly, not only are her biggest numbers mis-handled, her one original song didn’t make the final edit either.

OK, and a final criticism, I’m afraid I found Anna Kendrick as Cinderella rather vacant. But that could just be me.

On the plus side, James Cordon does well as the baker, and there’s nice work from the princes.

The script editor too makes a decent fist of shortening and “dumbing down” the script for the wider audience, and the songs are mostly left alone – the form seems to be to ‘abandon totally’ rather than edit. A good choice. Oddly, though, the music didn’t sound as lush as in days of Hollywood musicals past, but that could have been the cinema rather than this film.

As an introduction to Sondhiem, it’s not bad. It lacks the warmth and connectivity of the stage show, the true darkness and empathy, but it’s a reasonable enough attempt that I’ll be buying the DVD in the sales. That said, the Digital Theatre version is also still available… and the gap between them is wider than I’d hoped.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: