Stephen Sondheim’s stage musical gets the movie treatment with an impressive cast taking on the roles of fairy tales’ best known characters. The idea is this – characters such as Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella (Kendrick), and the Baker (Corden) and his Wife (Blunt) all have to venture Into The Woods (singing as they go, of course), and in the course of their slightly twisted stories discover that it’s not always great to get what you wish for, and there may be consequences to realising your dreams, too.
On stage, this was a gloriously bleak affair – beloved characters die, and most of them at the very least don’t get their happily ever after – but with Disney behind this production, it has been softened somewhat. That being said, this is still dark enough to traumatise little ones expecting all their Disney fairy tales to be as cute as Frozen.
Fans of the stage musical, meanwhile, will be upset at the omission of songs, events and entire characters, but this was always going to be a difficult project to adapt for the big screen – the stage version was almost three hours long (a child-friendly version used in American schools cut the entire second act!)
Rob Marshall, who successfully adapted Chicago for the screen, directs and certainly tones down the violence (there are less deaths and when they come they’re less brutal) and hints of sex (in the musical, one of the characters has an affair, but here there is only a kiss). It’s still hard to tell who the movie is aimed at, however.
While kids will recognise Jack (and his beanstalk), Rapunzel, Cinderella and her prince, younger viewers won’t understand the grown up themes, from Cinderella’ realising royal life and her prince aren’t all they should be, to the Witch proving that everyone shouldn’t blame her for their calamities but should take responsibility for their own lives. Kids will enjoy Meryl Streep’s deliciously evil performance as the Witch, Kendick’s dulcet singing as Cinderella and Corden’s cuddly turn as the Baker.
But while adults may appreciate the intricate songs, jokey moments (especially the sing-off between the two princes, played by Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen), in trying to appeal to both kids and grown-ups this interesting but jumbled movie ends up not entirely appealing to either.
Is Into The Woods suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
The film has dark moments throughout and is not suitable for the under-8s.
Most of the deaths occur off screen but may upset younger viewers.
Sensitive children may find the giant, Johnny Depp’s wolf and Meryl Streep’s witch scary.