Into the Woods
There are a couple of prerequisites for enjoying a film like Into the Woods. Having at least a general knowledge of popular fairy tales definitely helps, but to truly love and appreciate this film, it is essential that a person loves and appreciates musicals as well.
I’ve read and heard a number of complaints from people who slammed Into the Woods because they went into the film having no idea that it was a musical. While the trailers fail to highlight the copious amounts of singing, the film is an adaption of Stephen Sondheim James Lapine’s iconic musical that debuted on Broadway almost twenty years ago.
Into the Woods is an amalgamation of several well-known fairy tales; Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel as well as the story of a Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt). The couple are desperate to conceive a child but learn that a Witch (Meryl Streep) has placed a curse on their house, ensuring that their family tree would always be a barren one. In order to undo the curse, the Baker and his Wife are sent into the woods (hey, that’s the name of the movie) to find a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, a slipper as pure as gold and hair as yellow as corn.
Directed by Rob Marshall, the film is visually stunning and incredibly well-cast. Meryl Streep is of course fantastic and imbues what could be a one-note ‘evil’ witch with enough humanity that there are times when she is near sympathetic. Anna Kendrick’s singing abilities have been showcased before in Pitch Perfect, but she is exceptional here as Cinderella. A highlight is during her third (yes third) time fleeing the palace after dancing with the Prince (Chris Pine). Her character rewrites the traditional tale by intentionally leaving her slipper behind, leaving the decision of which life she will lead up to the Prince, “I know what my decision is – which is not to decide”.
Chris Pine as Cinderella’s Prince and Billy Magnussen as Rapunzel’s (Mackenzie Mauzy) Prince both prove to be fantastic sources of comic relief. Their satirical duet ‘Agony’ is musical equivalent to a male pissing contest in which the two commiserate over their angsty feelings for their respective maidens – a hilariously astute comment on the inherent arrogance and egotism of fairy tale princes. But it’s Emily Blunt who gives the ultimate standout performance in a film already filled with outstanding performances. Her vocals are beautiful and her comedic timing impeccable; she proudly wears Rapunzel’s hair around her neck like a scarf and flippantly tells her husband that she, “just pulled it from a maiden in a tower”.
I’ve always adored fairy tales, but even more so when their common tropes are taken and turned on their heads. Having no prior knowledge of the stage musical, but having seen the trailers, I assumed this film would play out rather straightforward. And although the film started out following the traditional path of these aforementioned fairy tales, I was pleased to find myself surprised by the unexpected, occasionally dark events of the film.
Into the Woods begins with what is arguably the film’s most important song, ‘I Wish’. Each character is earning for something; Cinderella wants nothing more than to dance with the Prince at the festival, the Witch is desperate for the youth and beauty that was taken from her, Rapunzel longs for a life outside the confines of her tower, the Baker and his Wife want a child and so on. What sets Into the Woods apart from other fairy tales is that “Happily Ever After” occurs halfway through the story, but the characters are still not satisfied, but left wanting. This is echoed in the closing moments in the film as Meryl Streep sings, “Careful the wish you make”. Even in such a fantastical setting, the degree of realism is a welcome addition to the film.
If it isn’t obvious by now, I thoroughly enjoyed almost every moment of Into the Woods, but like most films, it has its missteps as well. Rapunzel felt not only under developed as a character (though living alone in a tower isn’t admittedly a great character building exercise), her storyline felt much the same way. It is revealed very early in the film that she is the Baker’s sister, but that plot thread is left dangling.
Johnny Depp also continues his trend of playing variations of the same creepy character (this time as the Wolf), but his brief scene with Little Red (Lilla Crawford) was incredibly disturbing. His musical number is filled with double entendres that heavily allude to paedophilia and although this does make sense considering the dubious content of the original Brothers Grimm fairy tale, it didn’t make the scene between the two any less uncomfortable to watch.
I found it easy to overlook these flaws however, because I left the theatre with a smile on my face and half of the musical numbers playing on repeat in my head. Into the Woods is a certainly a magical film, but peppered with just enough realism and self-awareness that it is the ideal fairy tale for the modern audience.
Review by Tegan Lyon
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