As I have documented elsewhere on this site, musicals are not really my cup of char. But there are a few I love (Little Shop of Horrors, Matilda, Cabaret…) , and these make me retain the hope that occasionally, others may appeal. Unfortunately I will not be adding Into The Woods to the short list on the positive side of the slate. It’s not that this Stephen Sondheim mash-up of six of the world’s most popular fairytales was bad, exactly; bits of it were wonderful. But on the whole, it fails to ignite. And not just because of Johnny Depp’s godawful pedophile wolf.
But let’s start with the positive. Meryl Streep is fabulous. Of course she is; when is she not? She clearly relishes her role as The Witch and plays it with enough vim and gusto to make her scenes, at least, compelling. And James Corden’s good too. I know he’s not always popular with the critics, but I think he has real talent; in this, he manages to be both endearing and ridiculous, and his singing isn’t too bad either.
The overall look of the film is remarkable. The lush, forbidding beauty of the forest is a perfect representation of FairyTale land and Frances De La Tour’s vengeful giant is a visual delight. And yet… there’s too much here to lament, not least the sheer brutal length of the film, a punishing 125 minutes that felt at least forty minutes too long – there were audible sighs of dismay around us as the audience realised that the ‘happy ending’ was by no means the end of the film. Not by a long shot.
And it’s this, I think, that sums up my main problem with it. Sondheim’s aim is to subvert the traditional fairy tale, to show that ‘happily ever after’ doesn’t really exist, that charming princes cheat and stray, that people can be selfish and unkind. It aims to expose the the fairy tales’ dark heart – but in truth, it’s just not dark enough; this is a Disney adaptation, after all, so even in the midst of its subversion, the fridge magnet epithets abound`: you’re never truly alone, even good people make mistakes, blah blah blah. It doesn’t have the guts to really look at what the stories say; there’s not the faintest traces of Angela Carter here.
Oh yeah. And I didn’t like the songs.