I was fortunate enough to go to an advance screening in the West End earlier this week and Disney were excitedly telling us how this film has been a smash at the US box office (beating the opening weeks of Mamma Mia! and Les Miserables ). Anything that puts Les Mis in its place has got to be a good thing. Having seen the film there can be little doubt as to why this is doing so well over the pond.
Firstly it’s a Stephen Sondheim musical! So we can expect clever lyrics, crafted melodies and a story that keeps you smiling but also throws in plenty of surprises along the way. I had no idea what this story was about, other than it has a witch and is set in some woods. I don’t want to give anything away, suffice to say it’s a witty and clever retelling of some classic fairy tales.
Watching it I was struck at the skill Sondheim has and lamented that so much musical theatre is rather lazy in comparison to this. I’m always a bit concerned of film adaptations of stage musicals but Disney get this spot on, utilising the advantages of film to make this a much larger production than you’d ever get to see on stage. This is something to see at the cinema where you get the huge screen and surround sound system luxuries. This is an epic musical and seeing it brought to life on this scale is magical.
Meryl Streep is the poster girl and delivers a fabulous performance as the witch. Despite my concerns, that films that have lots of names in often don’t work, (I think that’s why the film adaptation of Nine didn’t work) this time the casting of numerous names doesn’t affect the film negatively.
Emily Blunt blew me away as the Baker’s wife, it’s a brilliant performance. There are many stories being told throughout the piece but for me hers stuck out the most. Although why she suffers whilst Prince Charming gets off scot-free seems a bit unfair! James Corden plays her Baker husband and delivers his best performance since The History Boys.
My only personal gripe is the clash of accents throughout the film, this is most noticeable between Jack who is a little cockney rascal and Little Red Riding Hood who has a very acute American “twang”, It jarred with me, it seems odd that this wood has such a variety of contrasting accents in it!
The princes duet in the waterfall (you’ll have to see it to understand it) is one of the funniest scenes and again, I was surprised at the vocal talents of Chris Pine, he’s not just a pretty face!
Sondheim musicals are not easy to sing – the score is demanding and it’s a pleasant surprise to see these Hollywood A list actors rising to the challenge and deliver what for many of them will be one of their career highlights I’m sure.
We’re only a few days into 2015, I recommend you catch this as your first musical of the year. It will set the bar high but when so many musicals are lacklustre in their story and/or music I see that as no bad thing.
STARS : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Thanks to Disney and Laughing Buddha for the advance screening tickets!