Hollywood’s current meta-obsession seeps into the world of Grimm fables and musical theatre for this surprisingly honest adaptation – this is Disney, after all – of Steven Sondheim’s subversive Broadway smash; a raucous fairytale mash-up album with surprising things to say about wish fulfilment, hubris and greed.
We’re introduced to a flickering, gold-tinted fairytale world. James Cordon and Emily Blunt play a bread-making couple who pine for a first child. A witch next door (Streep) offers to free them of their curse if they are willing to enter the woods and retrieve four objects for her, from Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack (of beanstalk fame) and Red Riding Hood. It’s surprisingly juicy stuff. The woods represent sexual awakening, greed and promiscuity, and we soon learn that big bad wolves, charming princes and lucrative beanstalks are never quite what they’re cracked up to be.
While seldom dull, the film does lose some steam in an overly indulgent final act, but by that stage it’s offered enough to leave you humming along lightly, not least one genuinely spine-tingling scene from Meryl Streep. Is there any lazier way to end a critique than by saying what that particular actress did? Oscar nomination 19 is in the bag.
Into the Woods | Directed by Rob Marshall (USA 2014) with Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, Meryl Streep. Starts February 19
Originally published in issue #135, February 2015