“Into the Woods” may have earned its name as a Sondheim musical, but the Disney film revamp adds a modern twist. In a conference call The Michigan Daily attended, “Into the Woods” ‘s storybook couple Anna Kendrick (“Pitch Perfect”) and Chris Pine (“Star Trek”) — Cinderella and Prince Charming, respectively — discussed the challenges of bridging the stage-to-film genre differences and ushering a classic fairytale into a new era.
Though any given first grader could coherently summarize the Brothers Grimm tales featured in “Into the Woods,” the stars argue that a new adaptation still holds relevance.
“The great thing was that (director Rob Marshall, “Chicago”) really embraced a modern sensibility for all the characters, because since these stories kind of belong to the ages, you know, it makes sense that in some ways we update them every generation,” Kendrick said.
And update them we do. The film’s Cinderella differs from other renditions in that she has a greater awareness of the individual agency she has to shape her life’s trajectory. Kendrick explains how she made Cinderella’s timeless character her own “sort of over-thinking, over-logical, neurotic princess,” even as the world seems to be colliding around her.
“I think modern women have a tendency to over-think everything and they don’t trust their gut and we have to look at everything from every angle and find the right decision, and she’s doing that the entire piece until something that she really has to reckon with happens,” Kendrick said. “You know, when the community is in crisis, suddenly it’s very clear for her what’s important … she’s very centered and she’s very calm, more so than she is in any other moment in the piece.”
In contrast, Pine took on a more satirical portrayal of Prince Charming.
“Everybody in this film goes through these really wonderfully complex journeys and they experience joy and heartache and sorrow and grief. And then my prince is just way more two-dimensional than that, and … I think that I had a lot of fun bringing some levity to the picture, or tried to — there’s a bit of a buffoon in the prince,” Pine said. “Cinderella gives him the chance to really feel and to really connect with her, and I think he does for a brief second, but then does make the choice to kind of go back and run off and relive over and over and over again this storybook life that he is so accustomed to.”
Because of its heightened realistic awareness, “Into the Woods” sheds the idea that the Brothers Grimm is nothing more than a sweet bedtime story. Instead, it offers entertainment for children and adult audiences alike.
“There’s the element where it’s pure fantasy and it’s exciting for kids and then there’s an element that’s really specifically centered towards parents, which is we have to be careful what we tell our children, and children take lessons to heart, and it’s sort of about understanding that they’re listening to us even if doesn’t feel that way,” Kendrick said.
But successfully updating familiar tales and their characters wasn’t the only thing the film adaptation had to master. At its core, “Into the Woods” is a musical, with an incredible, well-known score by one of Broadway’s greatest geniuses. The film adaptation must do Sondheim justice, and though both Kendrick and Pine have previous singing experience, molding their technique to fit a new discipline was a welcome challenge.
“The musical theater genre is very specific, and the sound that you’re going for is obviously quite different than something like the country music I did before. But I had a lot of fun learning the ins and outs of the technique and of the genre,” Pine said.
Kendrick agreed, calling this performance “harder, a lot harder” than her 2012 work in “Pitch Perfect.” But still, she said, “singing Sondheim is so rewarding and fulfilling and it was just, it was just a dream come true.”
It also helps that they’re in good company. From director Marshall to accomplished lead actors Meryl Streep (“The Devil Wears Prada”), Johnny Depp (“Pirates of the Caribbean”) and Emily Blunt (“The Adjustment Bureau”), “Into the Woods” features a strong, star-studded cast. For two actors making the technical jump, there’s no better place to be.
“I think Rob really set the tone in the beginning. You know, he’s a director that comes from the theater world so he recognized the importance and the real luxury of having a month of rehearsal before you ever show your wares to the public. And he made sure to build that in,” Pine said. “And even though, all of us, we didn’t get a chance to work with everyone, we did get a chance in that month to see one another and to see what everybody was doing. And I think that really helped infuse the project with a sense of community and that we’re all kind of on the same page. And I think you’ll hopefully feel that great feeling in the film.”