A couple of months ago I covered the upcoming film release of ‘Into the Woods’, a film I was eagerly awaiting due to being already a big fan of the theatrical production of the musical. Having now seen this film in cinema, I’ve decided to give a post-release review of this film and discuss whether it lived up to my expectations.
The story follows a Baker and his Wife as they venture into the woods in order to find various items from classic fairy tales, many of which have been made famous with their own Disney Films. They give these items to a witch in exchange for her removing a curse and allowing them to have a child. Once the curse is removed, they, along with all of the other characters who have achieved their own wishes assume that they will live happily ever after, but it turns out, life may not be quite so simple.
To start with, if you haven’t seen the film yet, I’ll clarify that it is a musical, based on a Broadway one in fact, and so it does feature a lot of singing. I have heard some people were surprised when going to see it since the trailer may not have been clear enough, but if you’re into that kind of thing, this is something you’ll really enjoy. Written by Stephen Sondheim, considered by many to be one of the greatest composers and lyricists Broadway has ever seen, this is a classic.
There are so many levels to this story, and each sub-plot has its own morals and messages to take away. To begin with, the story focusses on the difference between fairy tales and reality, since in reality stories don’t always have a happy ending. To illustrate this, Into the Woods adds new endings for each of its characters. Furthermore, the film shows us that you should be careful what you wish for, since after all of the character’s dreams come true, complications follow leading them to regret their earlier decisions, and in terms of the baker and his family in particular, the show also examines the relationship between parent and child that is so important in one’s life.
The film includes star performances from all of the cast members, which include Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt and James Corden. While some (Streep and Kendrick) have appeared in musicals before, I was surprised by the singing ability of the entire cast and more importantly their ability to convey the action and their emotions through the music. There were some cuts made from the show, for example the song ‘Ever After’ and the reprise of the song ‘Agony’, as well as the new song written for Meryl Streep as the witch. However this is understandable given the time constraints of a movie when compared with a theatre production.
The show features some action and good special effects, but the majority of the film is more focussed on the human interaction and drama rather than the fantasy. Humour is also strong in this film, particularly in songs such as ‘Agony’, sung by the charming, if rather vain Princes. The story is, for a musical, one that translates very easily to film form, since though it is focussed more on the characters, the setting of a fairy-tale world is one that can be depicted very easily in film with the highly developed technology we have today.
This, like most Sondheim musicals is quite an emotionally complex show and people will be divided on whether they understand quite what the musical is trying to get at. This isn’t the film for you if you want a simple fantasy adventure film, focussing on more complex real-world drama and human emotions within a fantasy guise. Personally though, I am a huge Sondheim fan and cannot recommend enough this film version of a wonderful show.
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