‘Into the Woods’ Review

By: Erica Faunce

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.

     The other half of the musical’s attraction is that the dark adaptions of classic fairytales, such as Hansel and Gretel and Snow White and the Huntsman, have become increasingly popular. In the past five years, audiences have demanded the return of “real” Grimm fairytales, which are not as fluffy and golden as most of us were raised to believe. Unlike classic Disney movies, the last hour of Into the Woods takes a dark turn that ends in tragic choices and dark demise.
Mackenzie Mauzy as Rapunzel
     Disney found an all-star cast for the film, which includes great actors from both screen and stage. Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) and Chris Pine (Star Trek: Into Darkness) sing alongside Simon Russell Beale (Henry V) and Joanna Riding (My Fair Lady) in a fantastical world of sparkling bizarreness. Performances, though often short-lived with such a wide range of characters, are marvelous all around. Meryl Streep does steal the stage (because, come on, she’s Meryl Streep), but James Corden and Emily Blunt are exceptional, especially for being relatively unknown to the musical realm. Although one could justifiably argue that the film is campy at times, one must keep in mind that it is a musical. Musicals thrive on campy, especially when Sondheim is involved.

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.

Verdict

Great

Into the Woods reclaims its place as the forerunner of films in the twisted fairytale genre.
Picture

(5-star scale)

Positives

  • Effects aren’t overwhelming
  • Performances are decent
  • Epitome of “dark fairytale”

Negatives

  • Gets over-the-top very easily
  • Some performances cut short
  • Too dark for younger children