Star Rating:

Into The Woods

Actors: Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine

Release Date: Saturday 30th November 2013

Genre(s): Music

Running time: 124 minutes

Modern takes on fairy tales are nothing new. Musical parodies are nothing new. But Into The Woods is new. After seducing with an amusing take on the fairytale, this James Lapine/Steven Sondheim adaptation from Chicago and Nine director Rob Marshall takes an unexpected turn just as things seem to be wrapping up, and goes where the fairytale, and Disney, dared not before.

Emily Blunt and James Corden are a childless couple who yearn for a baby. Meryl Streep's witch swirls into their bakery to offer to lift this curse by asking them to acquire four special items before midnight three nights hence. Desperate, they venture into the enchanted woods to hunt down the shoe of Cinderella (Kendrick), forever evading her charming prince (Pine); Rapunzel's (Mackenzie Mauzy) hair, Red Riding Hood's (Lilla Crawford) cloak, and Jack's (Daniel Huttlestone) cow.

It's all fun and games to begin with (even if Johnny Depp's Mr. Wolf veers close to the paedophile the Red Riding Hood story is an allegory for) with Blunt, Streep and Pine understanding the tone better than most. One of the highlights is Agony, when Pine (great hair) and Billy Magnusson (wooing Rapunzel) engage in a duet of one-upmanship, both declaring in a hilarious sing-off that one is burning with desire for his princess more than the other.

After towing a tried and tested line towards its inevitable climax, Into The Woods suddenly becomes dark and unpredictable. The story moves away from its fairytale roots and gets serious, exploring a more realistic conclusion in an extended fourth act. There's still singing but there's also blinding, crying babies, insecure fathers, infidelity and death. The woods fully realises its metaphor: life has no simple answers, the world isn't black and white, and good people do bad things. This is The Fairy Tale: After The Wedding. It's an unbelievably brave move from the clean cut Disney.

There are problems, though. It never fully gives the knowing gags the full welly and the tunes aren't memorable. Mostly dialogue that exercises the lungs, the dramatic songs can lose their narrative if one isn't paying real attention to the lyrics.

Fun and dark, this is a change of pace for Disney.