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Into the Woods (DQ)


Stars: Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Emily Blunt, Tracey Ullmann, Daniel Huttlestone, Lilla Crawford, Johnny Depp, Christine Baranski, Chris Pine, Mackenzie Mauzy, Billy Magnussen, Annette Crosbie, Lucy Punch, Tammy Blanchard

Director: Rob Marshall

Here's a novelty fantasy musical that's almost like a Christmas operetta: it has clever but unmemorable songs that ring loudly from the screen and require bell-like Broadway voices. Blunt, Kendrick and Streep all sing well, Streep especially, as do the two children involved; too little is seen of Depp as the Big Bad Wolf.

The scenario ingeniously weaves four fairy-tales - Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk and Red Riding Hood - together, and throws in a whirling witch (Streep) for good measure, as well as a few twists that weren't in the original stories.

Humble baker Corden and his wife (Blunt) long for a child, but have been cursed with barrenness by the witch, in revenge for Corden's father (Simon Russell Beale) having stolen from her garden. She offers them a way out: get her a red hood, a golden slipper, a white cow and golden hair, and she'll lift the curse. And so...into the woods.

And, just when we're braced for a happy-ever-after ending, the film chooses to switch things around and end on a darker note than you might expect - or wish.

The lyrics have their moments - 'I'm in the wrong story,' gasps Blunt when romanced by Prince Charming (Pine), who reveals himself more related to the fella in the Shrek movies - although there's an uncomfortable glitch when Streep's mood changes inexplicably after serenading her daughter Rapunzel (Mauzy) about the need to stay together.

But you do rather tire of the shrilly lilting lines and long for something that will actually send you home humming a tune. There's nothing memorable in Stephen Sondheim's music here. The thing is, the lyrics only remind you that this is a stage show and, unlike most filmed Rodgers and Hammerstein muscials, it still plays like one on screen.

David Quinlan

USA 2014. UK Distributor: Disney. Technicolor.
125 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 04 Jan 2015