When we were children, fairy tales, Disney princess films, and magical stories all reigned supreme. Tales of happy endings, magical fairy godmothers, dashing princes, fair maidens, and evil queens all populated our imaginations.
Disney has managed to build an influential empire off of these stories and has given them to the world. Eventually, we grow up and realize that fairy tales don’t always come true, good guys don’t always win, Prince Charming is a jerk, evil queens sometimes have good reason for doing what they do, and sometimes fair maidens have to save themselves.
Disney is continuing to exploit their fairy tales with live action remakes/retellings like “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” “Maleficent,” “Cinderella,” the current hit on ABC “Once Upon a Time,” and the upcoming “Beauty and the Beast” starring Emma Watson as Belle.
On Christmas Day of 2014 Disney released a film adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim, James Lapine Broadway musical “Into The Woods” directed by Oscar winning director of “Chicago” Robb Marshall. Starring names like Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Chris Pine, and Tracey Ullman, to include a few.
“Into The Woods” is quite famous for its mature take on fairy tales. It is not for little kids like the Disney fairy tales of old. It’s dark, and it takes the classic Grimm Fairy Tales route–complete with Cinderella’s step sisters hacking off toes and heels to get their feet to fit in the shoes, and birds pecking their eyes out, controversial lyrics and subtext involving the Big Bad Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood–making it meant for adults.
This film re-enforces the old adage to “be careful what you wish for” to the nth degree and humanizes characters that in past films are turned into heroic figures on a pedestal. Many characters lose loved ones in horrific ways; the children, like the ones in Little Red Riding Hood and Jack in the Beanstalk, learn that growing up is not easy, and actually quite scary.
The rumor is “Into the Woods” was created from a psychology book telling the fairy tales to children in a way to prepare them for adulthood.
The film begins with the baker and his wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt), wishing they had a child. A crazed, ugly witch, yearly Academy Award nominated Meryl Streep, comes to them and informs them she cursed their household as an act of revenge for the Baker’s father stealing from her garden.
She offers them a deal, “give me the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold” and she will reverse the curse.
They venture off into the woods near their small village and encounter an indecisive Cinderella, a precocious Little Red Riding Hood who is followed by a zoot-suit-wearing Big Bad Wolf, an innocent Rapunzel locked in a tower who wishes to see the world, an inquisitive Jack and the Beanstalk with a cow named “Milky White,” and two princes, one “raised to be charming, not sincere,” and Rapunzel’s somewhat bland prince.
The baker and his wife manage to break the spell, as the other characters all follow through with their stories. But at the “end” of the stories, without giving too much away, the happy endings of these characters all go awry. And the second half of the film gets very depressing and very real.
This movie is also a very popular musical. I would consider this to be the most musical, movie musical in a few years. The first 15 minutes is an opening song. Conversations that would normally be held in dialogue are had in song form. If you aren’t a musical person and find them difficult to sit through, I don’t imagine that this one will suddenly change your mind about it.
The “dark and gritty” fairy tales that many people want to see films of do exist in this film, but the music is repetitive and catchy. I saw the film opening day over winter break with my mom and grandma. All three of us enjoyed ourselves. My mom is a big Meryl Streep fan and my grandma enjoyed the music. Me? I enjoyed the characters. Anna Kendrick’s Cinderella isn’t just a pretty face, she’s plucky and adventurous, and endearing. Emily Blunt as the baker’s wife was quite charming and you wanted her to succeed, James Corden’s baker made the film for me. He was so likeable and funny that I was genuinely moved by his performance.
Other standouts include Lila Crawford as Little Red Riding Hood who turns a little feral after the Wolf’s attack, Chris Pine, known as Captain Kirk in the new “Star Trek” films as Cinderella’s prince, and Billy Magnussen as Rapunzel’s prince both crooning out the song “Agony” on a waterfall, opening their shirts up exposing their chests, and expressing their agony at being handsome and in love with women, in the vein of Gaston from “Beauty and the Beast.”
And the final lullaby sung by the baker and Cinderella to the children called “No One is Alone” which perfectly sums up the second half of the film. While growing up is hard and scary, sometimes it’s easier to do when you have someone on your side.
This weekend “Into The Woods” will be at the Atwood movie night. Show times are at 8pm on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
I admit I have never seen the stage show. From what I understand the plot took a heavy amount of changes to rework it for a film medium, which I appreciate. Sometimes when books and plays are adapted for films you have to cut things that won’t translate well.
However, it felt a little clunky at points, some of the songs aren’t that strong or memorable, and it’s a little long for my liking. But the positive things that I stated above, as well as a few others I’m keeping secret, stand out and work very well. Another impressive note is that the entire cast sings. Some are clearly trained singers and are very good, others give valiant efforts.
The costumes are all very specific, very detailed and elaborate.
Fun fact: the majority of the sets were created by hand. The films only used CGI at few points, which is a welcome change to the constant slew of computer generated images in films today that are obviously fake.
If you’re into musicals or dark fairy tales, you’ll enjoy it. Or, if you’re curious about it, I’d say give it a watch this weekend. It’s free, and you’ll probably walk away humming along to “Who Knows What May Be Lurking on the Journey?”
Final verdict: 8/10