Once upon a time, Disney decided to make a film version of the theatre musical Into the Woods. Directed by Rob Marshall (Chicago), with original music by Stephen Sondheim, this is a funny, whimsical tale about what happens ‘after’ the happily-ever-after. Written by James Lapine and encompassing several fairytales, including Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk, Into the Woods is the story of a childless baker and his wife who strike a deal with a neighbouring witch in order to have a child.
Living under a curse the witch placed on the baker’s father years before for stealing from her garden, the baker and his wife must collect four things in order to conceive a child; a cow as white as milk, hair as gold as corn, a cloak as red as blood, and a slipper made of glass. They have three moons to complete their task.
Anyone who has seen an enjoyed the musical theatre production of Into the Woods will be delighted with the film version of this well-loved modern classic. But be warned; there are no true love’s kisses or finding one’s destiny in a significant other here. Prince Charming (Chris Pine) proves that charm does not always equal sincerity and Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) is leading the fairytale feminist movement with her indecision over the Prince and what he really has to offer her.
While Cinderalla stories date back to the 17th century, the idea of an indecisive Cinderella comes from the 19th century Brothers Grimm story of Aschenputtel, and all the tales that intertwine in this film are grim. However, it is good to see Disney finally introducing a more feminist message to young audiences through its female characters (also see the strong and independent women of Maleficent and Frozen).
Even the witch goes against type here and you wonder for a good part of the film if she is secretly evil or not. While Streep’s first scene feels a little forced, her portrayal of her character strengthens throughout the film, as does her singing, which really hits new heights in the third act.
Johnny Depp makes a brief cameo as a creepy and unnervingly sleazy Big Bad Wolf and Tracey Ullman is endearing in the role of Jack’s mum. Christine Baranski also provides a laugh as the diabolically self-involved evil stepmother willing to do anything for one of her daughters to wed royalty and Emily Blunt displays superb comic timing as the Baker’s wife.
The first half of the film is the strongest, but with stellar performances from the entire cast, this is a film that is easy to engage with and is difficult not to like. Just don’t expect any happily-ever-afters. But if it’s singing you’re after, you’ve come to the right place.
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