INTO THE WOODS (2015)

Watching Disney’s filmic edition of Into the Woods made me pine for Sondheim in the theatre.

That’s not to take anything away from a film and cast that present some of the best elements of the play/operetta/musical/piece. Despite this being an abridged version, the plot holds together nicely and there are some glorious casting decisions. Anna Kendrick is in fine voice as Cinderella, Meryl Streep menaces as the blue-rinse witch while Billy Magnussen and Chris Pine’s princely rendition of ‘Agony’ in the waterfall is a sequence dripping with Sondheimian fun.

However, it is one or two crucial omissions (and thus limitations) of the film that remind us why the platinum Sondheim experience is in the theatre. To that end, the absence of the narrator — and therefore the absence of the character’s macabre demise — deprives the film of questions surrounding narrative predestination. Indeed, the absence of an interval in a 2-hour cinema adaptation removes the structural break in which to draw breath, bask in the wordplay and satire of Act I before being plunged into the disarray, pathfinding and darker moralising of Act II.

But as with all that makes Sondheim great, there are hidden levels of richness. By casting actors from such disparate genres, fans of Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, Chris Pine, Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp and James Corden may have their first wonderful encounter with this masterpiece of music and theatre. While my overriding emotion at the end of the film was a desire to see Into the Woods on the stage for which it was written, perhaps this will also be the case for newcomers: revealing the full joy of Sondheim to an entirely new audience … I wish.

Note to film editors: if you’re going to cut a line from an iconic libretto, don’t cut a line approaching the brilliance of ‘Dwarves are very upsetting’. It is very upsetting.

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