With the words, “Once upon a time, in a far off kingdom,” Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods begins just like any other fairytale. The first hour and a half follows in classic Disney fashion (with the exception of a Johnny Depp’s suggestive, wolfish predation), and after a little bit of trouble, as well as a great deal of singing, everyone’s wishes come true. This “happy ending” theme is partially why Disney decided to bring this hit Broadway musical to the big screen.
Many dark fairytales have relied heavily on CGI visual effects, and Into the Woods is no exception. However, the effects are not as overbearing as its predecessors. Director Rob Marshall used relatively conservative amounts of green screen and other such effects to avoid overwhelming the story. “I wanted to make it real,” Marshall said. With a set that included dozens of live trees and moss combined with hundreds of pounds of synthetic materials, Marshall accomplished more of a surreal rather than real environment, which was perfect for a fairytale.
The woods are, to some extent, a character own their own. They lure other characters in, confuse and change them, for better or for worse, which makes for a rather grave feel compared to other Disney films. This is not a movie just for children. Lapine lightened the mood a bit, realizing that some things that pass on stage, such as Rapunzel’s death at the hands (or rather foot) of a giant, would not be so readily received by a Hollywood audience.
This film could not have come at a better time. Into the Woods first took the stage in 1986, and was, to some extent, the forerunner for today’s twisted fairytales. Now, it reclaims its place in the genre, reminding everyone who did it first.