Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. USA, 2014. Lucamar Productions, Marc Platt Productions, Moving Picture Company, Soho VFX, Walt Disney Pictures. Screenplay by James Lapine, based on the musical by James Lapine, Stephen Sondheim. Cinematography by Dion Beebe. Produced by John DeLuca, Rob Marshall, Callum McDougall, Marc Platt. Production Design by Andrew Bennett, Ben Collins, Chris Lowe, Mary Mackenzie. Costume Design by Colleen Atwood. Film Editing by Wyatt Smith. Academy Awards 2014. Golden Globe Awards 2014.
The ever-popular Tony Award-winning Broadway musical has finally made its way to the big screen via the purveyor of the modern movie singalong, Rob Marshall. It keeps the plotting essentially the same to the original show, with a comprehensive collection of classic fairy tales thrown into a jumble surrounding the needs of a baker (James Corden) and his wife (a standout Emily Blunt) who are barren and are willing to do anything to have a child. When their local neighbourhood witch (a grandly theatrical, deliciously fun Meryl Streep) tells them that they need to assemble a number of enchanted objects and she will make their dreams come true, they head to the forest to gather the ingredients for the spell at the same that a prince sees a beautiful woman with long hair in a tower, a scullery maid outwits her evil stepsisters and heads to the prince’s ball, a little boy trades a cow for magic beans, and a hungry little girl heads to grandmother’s house in a beautiful new red cape. The message was clear in the play and has not been either convoluted or clarified by the film version: humans pursue their needs without caring about the consequences for others, and when this leads to problems that affect all of society they then deal with it in a cowardly and inhumane way. Sondheim’s staccato score has been pruned to appropriate film length without cutting out the sense of it being a nearly fully-sung through piece, with tuneful, musical dialogue the highlight of the experience, brought to life by pleasing voices and lively performers. The limits of the stage have been filled out by the film medium’s ability to make what was suggested now come to life and it does nothing to add to the experience: the witch’s powers are a matter of Disney magic and fun to see, but the giants actually appear and without consequence, wasting the caliber of an actress like Frances de la Tour and declining to show her face. It’s a charming experience that will please fans of the show, but those who are not thrilled by the original or who are huge fans of musicals in general will not be converted; unlike Chicago, which created a new dynamic by completely reversing the structure of its original stage version, this one is a cookie-cutter adaptation that relies on a built-in audience and little else.