The Johnny Depp Archive

Into The Woods (2014)

Starring: Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, James Corden, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine, Frances de la Tour, Lilla Crawford, Daniel Huttlestone, Christine Baranski, Anna Kendrick, Tracey Ullmann, Lucy Punch, Tammy Blanchard

Directed by: Rob Marshall

Rating: 1 2

Johnny Depp as the Big Bad Wolf in Into The WoodsBeing a Johnny Depp fan can be a mixed blessing. I've been introduced to some fascinating films I'd never otherwise have seen (Before Night Falls, Don Juan DeMarco, Arizona Dream) and sat through some right turkeys too (hellooo Pirates of the Caribbean 4...) And certainly there's no way I'd have willingly spend my Friday evening watching two hours of fantasy fairy tale musical scored by Stephen Sondheim if it weren't for the promised presence of Mr Depp.

All I can say is, thanks, Johnny. Not. If you're a Depp fan I suggest tracking down his five minute appearance on YouTube and giving this film a decisive firm body swerve. His admittedly highly entertaining cameo as a paedophile wolf in a zoot suit is still not worth enduring the longest two hours of your life, as a clutch of tedious, two-dimensional fairy tale characters bemoan their fates to a monotonous, meandering, abrasive score.

Meryl Streep as the Witch in Into The Woods

At one point it actually looks as if everything will end happily – but no. True, if fairy tales really are coded life lessons to help us navigate the stormy waters of adolescence then we ought to be taught that there's no such thing as a happy ending. But still, must the lesson take another hour? At this point in the plot (such as it is), as Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) realises that Prince Charming (Chris Pine) lives up to his name a little too well and Jack the Giant Killer ( Daniel Huttlestone, channelling the Artful Dodger) is called to task for his crimes and the story takes a dark, uncomfortable twist into waters generally not charted in fairy stories, it should get more interesting. Instead, as the songs sprawl endlessly on, the impeccably clever, tongue-twisting lyrics making every character sound like Stephen Fry, I found myself longing for a proper, shivers-up-the-spine, lung-shredding singalong showstopper. Where's Idina Menzel when you need her? Usually when I'm bored in a film I fall asleep, but it's nigh on impossible when a Hollywood actress is screeching in your face and the brass section's braying fit to wake the dead.

True, there are moments of genuine humour, and the stellar cast certainly give it their all – a bit too much in some cases, with ensemble pieces tending to descend into a farcical contest of who can out-ham who. Is it Meryl Streep as the Wicked Witch, shrieking, cackling and swirling in a haze of floating garments and wild hair extensions, and acting more like Jennifer Saunders than ever? Or Chris Pine, all bouffant quiff, manly stubble and superficial derring-do? Or even poor Frances de Latour – who knew you could get typecast as a giant?

Emily Blunt and James Corden in Into The WoodsJames Corden and Emily Blunt, as the childless baker and his wife whose magical quest sets the action in motion, do their best to provide the likeable, grounding calm in the eye of the crazy storm, but they're facing a challenge far more daunting than collecting up a few enchanted objects in defusing the attention-seeking histrionics here.

Sondheim wrote Into the Woods years before the origin story or alternative fairy tale became standard box office fare. But at the risk of sounding even more like a philistine than usual, if you want a Disney film that subverts the classic girl meets prince and lives happily ever after trope, stick with Enchanted or even Frozen. The songs are belting, the characters lovable and, best of all, they know when to end. I've written before about the need for a good musical to be emotionally true, no matter how outlandish its premise. Into the Woods, for all its repeated emphasis on self-understanding and lessons learned, just rings hollow to me. My advice? Don't stray there; let it go...

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