From my very limited experience of Stephen Sondheim, I have to say that I'm not a big fan. I'm not sure what I'm missing that everyone else gets from his work, but I certainly seem to be missing something. Of course, I've not yet seen any of his works on the stage, where they may shine at their brightest, but this is my second time viewing a movie based on his work. The first time was Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street. I didn't love it. Yet I didn't dislike it either. It grew on me. The only thing I still don't love about it was, unfortunately, most of the soundtrack. I left the screening of Into The Woods trying hard not to hate it.
The story is as follows: a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) are unable to have children. They are offered the chance to change the situation by a witch (Meryl Streep), and to appease her they must find a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, a golden shoe, and hair as yellow as corn. The witch then disappears in a swirl of witchiness, leaving the baker and his wife to cross paths with Jack (Daniel Huddlestone), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) and Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy).
It's a star-studded affair, no doubt about it, with some lovely production values and competent direction from Rob Marshall. But it's also such a drab, lifeless affair that I can't see anyone being overjoyed by it, except perhaps fans of the stage show (and even they may be disappointed by the handling of the material - as can happen with anything being adapted into movie form). The script, written by James Lapine and Sondheim, seems to spend a lot of time wringing comedy from the fact that it's so amusing and sly and subversive when it's not. People have been reworking and twisting fairy tales almost as long as fairy tales have been around, and this plot throws everything around in pretty haphazard manner that never allows viewers to forget that different elements are being shoehorned in to fit alongside one another.
The cast all do a decent job though, so that's another plus point. Streep is a fun witch, Kendrick is suitably sweet as Cinderella, and Corden and Blunt do their best to make their characters likable (although it's a struggle). Crawford and Huddlestone both feel right for their roles, and they get their fair share of screentime, which is more than can be said for poor Mackenzie Mauzy. She's consigned to little more than a bit part, and is given very little to do when she IS onscreen. Chris Pine steals the show as a dashing prince, Billy Magnussen tries hard as another prince, Tracey Ullman is underused (playing Jack's mother), Johnny Depp has an enjoyable cameo, playing The Wolf, and Christine Baranski, Tammy Blanchard and Lucy Punch prove to be consistently entertaining as the evil family unit that Cinderella is stuck with.
Despite my own opinion of the film, it's worth noting that this is already a big success at the box office, and probably nowhere near its final total haul yet. So perhaps many other people are taking something away from it that I missed. Like an appreciation of Sondheim's talent.
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