Into the Woods

Into the Woods

Based on the musical by Stephen Sondheim (also responsible for the wonderful Sweeney Todd), Into the Woods is Disney’s take on the ironic fairytale mash-up. Whilst I really enjoyed the musical, I had pretty low expectations for the film adaptation, expecting Disney to butcher the subtleties and remove the hilarious innuendos. Whilst most sexual references were removed to appeal to families (Disney’s primary target audience), they kept some key things and the irony wasn’t completely lost. It also had beautiful settings that captured the overly vivid fantasy world, decent CGI, and an all-star cast to fall back on. However, there were still people who left during the opening number because they hadn’t realised it was a musical…

Interweaving the traditional tales of Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf (an underused Johnny Depp), Rapunzel, Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) and Jack and the Beanstalk, the film is concerned with a childless Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt) on their quest to reverse a Witch’s (Meryl Streep) curse on their family. All the characters end up crossing paths in the woods and act out their classic storylines whilst the Baker and Wife attempt to obtain objects from each of them.

After the classic happily ever after, each character begins to question their desires and the realities of their new lives. I love that the musical is self-conscious of fairytale convention and plays on the audience’s familiarity with the plot of each tale. For example, the Princes (Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen) are “charming, not sincere”.

Whilst it is an ensemble cast, some characters are given more screen time or more dynamic numbers. However, I’ve always empathised with the Baker and his wife’s storyline, as they seem at the crux of the entangled woes and desires of all the other characters. I consider Streep a dynamic actress and thought she did a great job with a role that could have been better developed by the adaptation, Blunt surprised me both with her vocals and characterisation, handling both the emotive and comedic aspects better than I’d anticipated.

Disney’s adaptation wasn’t as sharp in humour, and I felt the film lacked because it sanitised the darker aspects that were so appealing in the musical. I chose numbers from the film I felt most captured the tone of Sondheim’s original musical. ‘Into the Woods’ works because it subverts conventions and mocks the censoring of fairytales, which occurred once the genre became marketed for children and used by parents to patronise with moral or cautionary lessons. I love reworkings of fairytales that exploit the dark and disturbing elements and use satirical humour, but despite its strengths, I feel the narrative lost a lot of that in Disney’s adaptation.

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