Into The Woods is Disney’s next attempt at a darker fairy tale after the disappointingly average Maleficent. Thankfully, the film is an adaptation of the brilliant Stephen Sondheim’s musical and although not perfect, Into The Woods plays with the limits of what can constitute as a children’s film, and it pays off.
The plot brings together a variety of fairy tales, all existing in the same world. The Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) have been cursed by the Wicked Witch (Meryl Streep) who lives next door, unable to have a child. In order to reverse the curse, the duo must find a milk-white cow, hair as yellow as corn, a blood-red cape and a golden slipper before the next blue moon. What’s most impressive about Into The Woods is the darker, traditional portrayal of these fairy tales, looking at some of the more brutal moments of these tales that we may have forgotten. Toes and heels are cut off trying to fit into the golden slipper, crows peck eyes out, and half the cast members are killed off; essentially it’s Disney does Game of Thrones. There are some pacing issues, as the film could have concluded ninety minutes into the two hour film. However, the direction the film takes at this point is certainly interesting and unpredictable, developing into an ending far more bitter-sweet than one expects of Disney. If only the first ninety minutes were shortened, the film would have benefited a lot more from the actual ending.
Of course, the grand highlight of the film is the almighty Meryl Streep, playing the wicked “but-also-emotionally-complex-so-not-entirely-detestable” witch. Her solo Stay With Me is perhaps the rawest and most poignant moment in the film, enticing the audience to fall in love with her for a moment before her selfishness prevails again. There are a few other stand out songs: the establishing prologue number is fast-paced and delightful, starting the film off in the right direction. The song Agony, performed by Cinderella’s and Rapunzel’s charming Princes (Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen), is clearly a parody of the genre. It’s hilariously camp, and the sheer melodramatic nature of the Princes provides us with pure entertainment, overshadowing how much their “struggle” really is to find Cinderella and Rapunzel.
James Corden and Emily Blunt are simply adorable and Broadway actor Lilla Crawford is hilarious as Little Red Riding Hood. It’s hard to mention all members of the rather expansive cast, but many of them, including Anna Kendrick as Cinderella and Tracey Ullman as Jack’s mother, do their roles justice. Unfortunately, the Big Bad Wolf is yet another eccentric role in which Johnny Depp plays Johnny Depp, whilst Jack (of beanstalk fame) is played by Daniel Huttlestone and just comes across as irritating.
Into the Woods is certainly an interesting direction for Disney to go in, reaching for the darker themes that many hoped Maleficent would. Some characters are less enjoyable to watch than others, but considering the vastness of the cast it’s an inevitability. With this vastness also comes some timing issues, with the final act slightly suffering as a result. Nevertheless, it is an enjoyable experience and a more serious take on fairytales, whilst still maintaining some of its camp charm.
Images: Walt Disney Pictures