There are two types of people in the world: people who live for musicals (eg. the fans of pictures such as The Sound of Music, Chicago and Glee) and people who steer away from the merry genre. While I understand the second group’s mindset to possess a clearer approach towards their mediums of entertainment, I find myself identifying with the first bracket of audience who usually find themselves stuck in an endless stream of YouTube video excerpts, jamming out the tunes from Disney movies to Neil Patrick Harris’ opening numbers at the Tony Awards ceremonies.
In that vein, it amuses me that one of the most commonly uttered statements after a musical movie premiere usually boils down to: “I’ve watched the original Broadway/West End/RWS/MBS/DBS/ACS act before and this is not as good.” Isn’t it about time we realised that the term “adaptation” never meant to signify “perfect substitution”?
If we were to bring in technicalities, adaptation is the process in which the content is changed in accordance its new environment. There was never an aim to succeed and/or replace the precedent subject. Amidst the myriad of film musicals coming out this year, there is a core factor that binds all the numbers together — and yet loses credibility when in contact with the majority of viewers: screen appeal.
Into The Woods is the latest adaption effort by Rob Marshall, and if you know the man (behind favourites such as Nine and the 1999 Annie), you will understand where I am coming from in this paragraph. Succinctly phrased by one of his supporters, Marshall is a compact film-musical director, which means that he delivers strong numbers in concise character punches to propel the main plot. He grasps the storyline by its collar and makes damn sure that there are no breaks in his attempt to shake it down to its purpose. If he had directed Les Mis, it would have been 45 minutes long.
Borrowing its key concepts from Stephen Sondheim’s 1987 Broadway act, the film is a lovely tribute to James Lapine’s oddly fascinating and seductively dark insights into every child’s fantasy world. Nothing really starts or ends in the woods, but the ominous significance of the sinister patch twisting the middle of every ideal fairy tale you are familiar with is enough to break the magic and throw viewers back into reality. The woods are where the harsh themes of mortality, adultery, gender equality, familial responsibility, and all that societal jazz issues come out to play.
Of course, the star-studded ensemble draws enough appeal just by printing their bolded names on the film posters. Meryl Streep leads the cast as the Witch, a character defined by Lapine to be a key symbol of moral ambivalence, and her performance is a solid combination of seamless transitions within irony’s many facets. The subversive pieces deliver her vengeance to clash with vulnerability, honesty to develop into hatred, and desperation to become an almost divine acceptance of her predicament at the end.
The bakery couple (James Corden and Emily Blunt) reaches notes of sincerity and draws enough sympathy for their childless plight — but the classic Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) quickly distracts the spotlight with her teetering choices between the worlds of freedom or fantasy. The true highlight has to be the princes’ (Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen) comical focus: a reprise of the infamous “Agony”, where they try to outdo each other’s woes with ripped shirts and big hair. Truly, girls must be mad to not fall for them.
If judged within the scope of films, Into The Woods is a gem by itself. There is never a moment where you’ll look away to say, “Oh my god, I wish they will stop singing.” While Disney’s backing may have soften the themes to a wholly PG level, the motif of wishes still ring true to bring across the idea of neglected complications after attaining a wish (eg. altered destinies to efface the natural order of affairs). It may be a very sanitised version as compared to its parent content, but hey, now you can use this movie as an appropriate slap to wake children up to the world beyond the woods.
Directed by: Rob Marshall
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Musical
Running time: 124 minutes
Into The Woods opens in theatres 15 January 2015.