Mix together several classic fairytales and throw in a lot of singing, and you’ve basically got Into the Woods. I imagine there’ll be many people who don’t enjoy this film because of these two factors, but they were both aspects that appealed to me. I’m not always a musical fan, but the fantasy of the fairytale genre lends itself well to singing; just look at all those Disney films! However, while the story was originally a Broadway show, it’s not one that I’m particularly familiar with, so I was intrigued to see how all the fairytales interwove.
I definitely enjoyed the plot, featuring the classic quest narrative, with plenty of magic and romance thrown in, which makes it all of it very much up my street. There were times when things seemed just a bit too unbelievable, but audiences should remember that fairy tales aren’t meant to be realistic, and allow themselves to get swept up in the fancy of it all. Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll know the plot though, just because you know the original tales; there were certainly a few surprises thrown in! I liked being kept on my toes, and the variations helped flesh out the characters more, as the original ones can be quite one dimensional. There’s also plenty of character growth, if albeit a bit too apparent (Red Riding Hood’s ‘I Know Things Now’), but that is part of the fairytale genre. I also liked that the film isn’t afraid to make fun of some of the more unrealistic elements of fairy tales though – the princes’ duet ‘Agony’ springs to mind!
The acting was all-around excellent. The warmth and kindness portrayed by James Corden and Emily Blunt, as the Baker and his wife, give the film a strong anchor – so many characters could make things confusing, but these two are the heart of the story. They are humble and modest characters, who are forced to prove their bravery and devotion, and show considerable depth when faced with trials and temptations. Meryl Streep is a stand-out of course, as the cunning and manipulative witch, the primary antagonist of the whole affair. Other favourites of mine include Anna Kendrick, as a sweet Cinderella, but with a little more complexity and backbone, and an exceptional singing voice, Daniel Huttlestone, as the cheeky and charming Jack, and Chris Pine, as the hilariously over-dramatic Prince Charming. Johnny Depp also makes for a wolf who is simultaneously seductive and terrifying.
In line with the fantastical element of fairy tales, the costumes, setting and special effects were all excellent. Meryl Streep’s transformation is particularly noteworthy, as she is barely recognisable in her elderly hag-like getup, before becoming stunning enchantress later on. The outfits of Cinderella and her stepsisters were also beautiful and imaginative, and somewhat quirky, and Johnny Depp’s wolfish appearance was very well put together. Naturally, the woods is an important setting, but I thought the scope and density of it was depicted well, as you never felt like you were in the same part of it twice.
It’s not a film for everyone, and I’ve heard from a few people who didn’t enjoy it. It’s a musical jaunt through a world of curses, princesses and giants, so if songs and fairytales are your cup of tea, you’ll probably enjoy this. Fantasy is my escapism and my childhood, so being swept up in story of magic was certainly a couple of hours well spent for me.