Words by Troy Balmayer
A gleeful and sometime dark look at fantasy and fairy tales through musicality and typical Disney glossy production value. It falls down in seemingly never ending happy or unhappy endings and the film does feel too long for underwhelming songs and nothing majorly special.
This musical has The Baker (James Corden) narrate and feature in an intertwining tale of fairy tale classics as he and his wife (Emily Blunt) need to find four items to try and reverse a curse placed by the Witch (Meryl Streep). Along the way in the woods is a wolf (Johnny Depp), Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and his cow, Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) and dark twisted paths leading to unexpected conclusions.
The film does have some neat clever moments that stem from the original 1987 Broadway story, the intriguing and playful turns of children’s fairy tales make the Disney film a little less kiddy than it could have been and in fact the middling section of this screen adaptation is good for hitting that stride of Brothers Grimm territory. Sadly it doesn’t seem to linger on the darker endings of the actual fairy tales which is a shame.
Stephen Sondheim has a knack for creating music and lyrics but so too does he have a knack for creating a sense of similarity in all the work he does. This film begins to feel tiring as each song comes in sounding the same as every other. The music builds up the fantastical village and foreboding forest really well but the songs leave something to be desired. None of them, in my eyes, are astounding or wholly memorable which isn’t a great sign for a musical, perhaps it not being something I knew of didn’t get me giddy for hearing how big names would do the songs I’d never heard, but then it hasn’t opened a door to me wanting to find out more about this show.
The only singing success I felt the movie had was in the quick paced number titled, ‘Your Fault’, an inventive, overlapping and snappy ditty that is stuffed with fast accusations and brilliant harmonies. The quick paced style can’t be said for the movie itself though as it felt like the dinginess of the woods was magically slowing down time and dragging us through the mud. It could have benefited from a few slight chops of Jack’s axe as the near two hour run didn’t feel spritley like a musical should. The beginning did but it began to labour as the twisted tales unfurled.
It’s shot very well, Rob Marshall directing the ensemble cast with his talent of behind the camera musical sparkle. The cinematography is very believable and the gnarled woods really do feel intimidating, large and troublesome. The make believe of towers, castles and forests grab attention and the costume/make-up department have a lot to feel proud of because the vision of the entire piece is remarkable, as if Hollywood and Broadway have combined in hybrid fashion to make this stage show film.
Meryl Streep is as pretty much always a formidable talent on screen. Her portrayal of this bad yet good yet bad yet so on and so on witch is mischievous, wicked and thoroughly fun. The song ‘Stay with Me’ (not by Sam Smith) that she got specially from Sondheim is the only other number that stands out and it’s not even originally from the show, maybe Streep’s shine could see it featuring on stage from now on, that or it’s going for Original Song at the Oscars. I’m in no way a fan of James Corden, in fact I find him overly irritating but after a few sighs getting used to his voice and presence he’s not terrible, he holds his own and is down to earth figure in this kingdom of wolves, princesses and giants. His marriage to the beautiful Emily Blunt perhaps the most unbelievable aspect about this story! Blunt herself is kind and a warm actress that sells the good intentioned and often funny Baker’s wife, her singing is damn good too. Johnny Depp is a credit only, a pull for punters to see him being Johnny Depp as always. The creepy factor he exudes is turned up ever higher in a brief scene and song. Much applause from me goes to Lilla Crawford who makes Red Riding Hood bounce with naughtiness and charisma every time she appears. Anna Kendrick is mightily convincing as humble being turned gorgeous princess and her stage background benefits her singing moments. Chris Pine has fun and near evil delight as a mocking one dimensional Disney prince, cliched air grabs and all.
I haven’t seen the show but it retains that stage like quality and magical darkness which is a good thing, a worthy example of thumbs up adapting work. I only disliked Sondheim’s songs which blend boringly and the length begins feeling overly long. I would have desired more teasing of worrying dark ends to keep in with Grimm glory but it’s fun and looks amazing.
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