Into The Woods, film review: Hollywood pantomime mashes characters and storylines from Brothers Grimm fairy-tales

(PG) Rob Marshall, 124 mins Starring: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski
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The Independent Culture

Rob Marshall's Into the Woods, adapted from the hit musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, is a strangely patchy and episodic affair. Some of it is dazzling and some of it would barely pass muster in a provincial Christmas pantomime.

The plot mashes together characters and storylines from the Brothers Grimm fairy-tales. It is true to the spirit of the Brothers, and to the morbidity and suppressed eroticism that lurks beneath the surface of their very familiar stories.

Marshall has assembled an intriguing cast, which includes comedians and seasoned character actors (several of them British) as well as big-name action stars. Meryl Streep enjoys herself as a screeching, long-taloned witch. Making an explosive entrance, she looks as if she has just arrived from tormenting Dorothy in the land of Oz and sounds like a cross between Margaret Thatcher and Ethel Merman. Streep is quite the trouper, putting across her songs with a thoroughly winning mix of spite, panache and wit – and is bound to win yet more awards nominations for her efforts.

Anna Kendrick makes a very fetching and tuneful Cinderella. First seen in scullery maid mode, scrabbling for lentils thrown on the kitchen floor to torment her by her evil sisters, she blossoms forth in time for the king's balls. The sisters themselves (Tammy Blanchard and Lucy Punch) are wonderfully malevolent and greedy, lopping off toes and chopping their heels in a forlorn attempt to fit into Cinderella's missing slipper.

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The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford's Little Red Riding Hood

There's an enjoyable, if very brief, cameo from Johnny Depp as a big, bad wolf, leering and sneering with a hint of Terry-Thomas about him, and Chris Pine makes a suitably dashing prince.

The problem with the film is it is so bitty. One moment Rapunzel is hanging her hair out of the tower for her suitor to climb up, the next we are deep in the woods with the humble, bumbling baker (James Corden), his infertile wife (Emily Blunt) and a white cow. Then we will be whisked for a few moments to the palace where Cinderella is enrapturing the prince before seeing Jack clamber up the beanstalk. The film has been made with plenty of high spirits but in a very choppy way. Some moments work, some don't. The film-makers aren't exactly lost in the woods but nor do they ever give us much sense that they know or care in which direction they are going.

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