Review of 'Into the Woods'

into_the_woods.jpg “Into the Woods” is an alternative and adult take on various fairy tales as it takes in elements from “Little Red Riding Hood”, “Jack and the Beanstalk”, “Cinderella” and “Rapunzel” set to music by the legendary Stephen Sondheim with an all-star cast. Here a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) are distraught at not being able to conceive a child so are approached by their neighbour, a witch (Meryl Streep) who offers to help them out if they will provide her with three things: A red cloak, a snow-white cow, a gold shoe and golden hair. So, they go out to find these things from, respectively, Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) and Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) but things are not as straight forward as you might think with Jack playing the thief with a very angry giant, Cinderella playing coy with her beloved prince (Chris Pine) and Rapunzel just wanting to be with her prince (Billy Magnussen) and out of the clutches of the witch who keeps her. When Cinderella finally marries her prince and everything seems to be set for a happy ending things take a dramatic turn when the giant's wife shows up…

We saw this at the Open Air Theatre in London (quite amazing) and so were familiar with the story and music but seeing in the big screen like this was quite amazing and allowed the complicated story and staging to come to life. Indeed, some of the exposition elements that obviously come from the stage seem to be out of place and slightly awkward in the film.

The cast perform wonderfully, particularly Meryl Streep as the witch who is a master of song and performance. Johnny Depp has a minor role as the wolf but steals every scene he is in. A surprising cameo for those of us that appreciate British comedy in the form of Tracey Ullman as the wonderfully surly mother of Jack. The young cast also present themselves well as Jack and Little Red Riding Hood with the later a very mature and suitably cocky performance. James Corden, as the central character of the baker, plays his character straight and convincingly.

The singing is all very good and, after the initial shock of hearing it, fits in well with the film.

Of course, moving this onto the big screen means a big budget and the effects here are quite good and not as over the top as might think with quite a bit left to the viewer's imagination (as all good fairy tales should be). The film is dark and sinister - It does take place in the woods, after all but never seems truly terrifying.

There is, of course, a strong story-line here with some heavy-handed meaning to the lyrics. It is not for nothing that the tag-line is “be careful what you wish for”. Despite being about fairy story characters this is not a children's film with frequent disturbing personal violence (no character is safe) as well as the complex personal dynamics likely to be lost by younger viewers.

Quite enjoyable and looks great on the big screen. I can see why it did not do too well when it was in theatres (it is a fairly heavy piece and the music is not as catchy as other shows) but I liked it.

Rating: “Really good but I have some issues”

Review Date: 2017-01-21

Directed by: Rob Marshall

Studio: Lucamar Productions

Year: 2014

Length: 125 minutes

Genre: Musical

Other reviewed films by Rob Marshall: