Disney marketers are selling the mythical storybook sizzle — witches, spooky woods, maidens, spells, beanstalks, a handsome prince, “I wish…” — and sidestepping the incidental fact that Rob Marshall‘s Into The Woods (Disney, 12.25) is given to song, and more particularly to the unconventional, occasionally quite subtle and sophisticated super-songs of Stephen Sondheim. Hilarious! Disney marketers are essentially declaring that the idiots out there don’t know from Sondheim and are probably going to be turned off by any notion of melodic fancy but the spooky storybook stuff…yes! We’ll eventually let them know it’s a musical down the road, Disney is thinking. Gently, gradually, bit by little bit. Hit them with it too suddenly and they might freak or complain.
Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick and James Corden can belt out a tune quite robustly and professionally, of course. I’m hoping/presuming/praying that Emily Blunt, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski and Johnny Depp will somehow muddle through. We all know that in terms of his directing style Marshall is a brassy, straight-ahead square who would rather strangle himself than play to the sophistos — he makes movies for popcorn-eaters. Chicago was certainly proof enough of that. But if he just gets out of the way of the material and just captures the play and the music and leaves well enough alone, Into The Woods might work.