SLIDER

Into the Woods (2014) - A Fairytale Mashup Musical Extravaganza

Into the Woods

Musical extravaganzas seem to be a popular must-have at the cinema these past several years. They’ve alternated from sweet and sassy to poignant and purposeful. In this film, Disney manages to strike somewhere in the middle of these components, it’s both comedic and poignant. What I didn’t realize when first learning of this production was two things. One being that it was a popular stage production. The mix of co-mingling results is likely to be a mixed case of emotions.

Once upon a time in a small village at the edge of the woods there lived five strangers. In this village is a young maiden ill-treated by her Stepmother (Christine Baranski), a girl who wears a cape red as blood, a childless baker and his wife and a young, curious boy named Jack. The one thing these villagers have in common is individual wishes their hearts hasn’t seen fulfilled. Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) desperately wants to go attend one night of the three day festival at the palace. Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) is on her way to visit her grandmother and has been warned not to stray from the path. First though, she makes a stop to get some sweets at the bakery. The baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) hope each day for a child and see their dreams drift away each passing year. Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) lives with his stern mother who is fed up with their milk cow who hasn’t given a drop of milk in weeks. Her tolerance ends today and she sends Jack into the woods with the cow to sell at market. Normalcy is about to end for them all.  

Cinderella is able to attend the three-night festival but runs from the man who could possibly be the dashing Prince (Chris Pine) of her dreams and Red Riding Hood happens to meet a hungry Mr. Wolf (Johnny Depp) out to do her harm. The Baker and his Wife see the most dangerous change when they receive a visit from the Witch (Meryl Streep) who explains a curse on their house. If they want a child and the curse undone they must fetch four things for her. A cow white as milk, a cape red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper pure as gold. The story may start with once upon a time… but to reach a happy ending, these strangers are about to form bonds they never expected.

Into the Woods

Wow. I’m not sure where to begin with Disney’s latest blockbuster and still be able to share all the highs and lows without giving away spoilers. If you’ve managed to stay away from them thus far, I applaud you. There are lots of things you could be spoiled about with this one – and unusual for me, I’m glad I wasn’t spoiled for this nearly two-hour spectacular. When the film opens, it’s on a grand scale with a musical number, a narrator introducing us to the main players and of course the entire premise on what the film is based on. What struck me most weren’t the voices or the production itself, it was the comedy! I really did not expect it to take this approach to the material. Not knowing anything (or much) about the stage version, I guess my assumptions were based on the promotional spots which didn’t come off the way the set up does. The script really is quite entertaining (something I would have suspected if I’d known Rob Marshall was involved), and this is a nice offset considering everything else that goes sideways.

Doing a bit of reading about this story will inform you that in its original form, this story is raunchy chocked full of innuendo, which is why Disney omits some song numbers and had to change the format in places. Going into it eyes wide open, it’s not hard to see where some of those issues crop up. There’s a number with the Wolf and Red Riding Hood that’s on the verge of being “inappropriate” (and does wander into the territory a bit). Then there is a moment nearer the end that leaves us stumped, wondering where we misjudged characters so much. That being said, I really don’t think much of anything dampened the experience of seeing this on the big screen. The vocals and performances are also memorable and for once, the songs don't run together, which is a huge pet peeve for me. Speaking strictly of the production and sets, this film is glorious. Rob Marshall’s vision exceeds expectations and I was particularly impressed to read he uses green screens as little as possible. It shows! The lifelike sets and lack of special effects (or a lack in the sense of extensive use) makes Into the Woods a standout in the world of fantasy. The woods are appropriately creepy and beautiful, coupled with an Oscar-winning costume designer (Colleen Atwood) and an all-star cast (who are, let’s face it, brilliant – even the newbies to movies or vocals), this film has enough magic to set a very appealing, atmospheric stage. Really, I’m unable to lay any faults at its door.  

Into the Woods
 
It wouldn’t be a thorough gush or even a so-so write up if I didn’t say this, which ties into the earlier paragraph. This is not an old-fashioned fairytale. Saying this might lead to some curiosity and for those of you who don’t like to be spoiled, I’m sorry, but… it has to be said. There is something unusual about how this story plays out and though it tosses our view of fairytales out the door, I say bravo! The story misplaces story cues (on purpose) and this is partially where the fun comes in. Early in the film, it’s almost as if the script is full of satire and it knows just how goofy it’s being (note: the hilarious musical number, 'Agony' with Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen. This scene was meant to play to its audience and be silly while doing it – or that’s what I believe). The second half of the unconventional is in making sure that this film is not a “happily ever after” sort of tale. Truthfully, it succeeds in doing that… or at least in the traditional sense.
 
I saw this with my mom and aunt, and between the three of us, we had very different opinions and views of the film. My mom and aunt didn’t care for the ending (to an extent). As a whole picture, my aunt didn’t love the movie, I adored it and my mom fell somewhere in between us. The ending can be what you make of it. I chose to see it in its rosier glow whereas some people may not. As I gave myself time to think about and process the film, the greatest aspect of it was really its more poignant and deeper messages. I admire that Disney didn’t give us a stereotypical fairytale. This one is darker and most impressive it leaves a lesson imprinted on us. Hidden or not, purposeful or not, there is something more to this movie than a pretty picture. In the closing credits, we are left with its message: no matter what we wish for, when striking the bargain to obtain them, those wishes don’t come without a price.  

(Content: rated PG, the film shies away from anything graphic [there are a number of deaths that are implied and happen off-screen] or overtly suggestive. One musical number involving the wolf talks of wanting (to eat) Red Riding Hood as he croons about her innocence and “flesh.” A married woman momentarily is swept away by another man; they share some kisses.)
 

28 comments

  1. I'm glad you liked it! I'm in the mood for some fairy tale spoofiness and it sounds like this movie, while a bit darker, includes some of that. (Another reason why I'm really excited for Galavant on Sunday night! A new show that I'm excited about and the new season of Downton Abbey- hopefully it's going to be an awesome night of TV. :)

    My mom and I are going to see it this afternoon and I'm really excited. Your review has made me even more so! :)

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    1. I did indeed, Kristin. Hope you enjoy this one too... let me know what you think/thought or if you write a review. :)

      Galavant look hilarious! I cannot stop giggling when the promos start. Hope you enjoy Downton Abbey. I'll be curious to know what you think of this season. :)

      Enjoy your movie outing...

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  2. I so want to see this! Maybe tomorrow. I'll check times and see if Mom can go.

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    1. That sounds like a fun plan, Dawn. Hope you can go! :)

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  3. I really enjoyed this movie. Really great review! I'm working on my own at the moment and it's nice to hear your thoughts. :)

    xox

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it, SW! It was a charming, untraditional kind of film and I really admired that. We do ask for something "unique" and this one certainly was. Looking forward to your review. :)

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  4. I just saw this with my family--"Agony" had the whole theater in stitches! I have to admit, though, I was more than a little concerned when the song started...

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    1. That scene was hilarious, Serena! I couldn't help my grin and giggles during it. Probably because I just didn't realize the film was taking such a comedic approach...! :)

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  5. I loved it! I loved "Agony" the best. And while I didn't love the ending, I thought it worked.

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    1. 'Agony' was fantastic. The whole number made me grin silly and that's part of what made the movie shine. Glad you liked it! My mom didn't love the ending either, but she enjoyed the movie as a whole. :)

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  6. Nice review Rissi, I'm glad you enjoyed it! Most of it I thought was fun, but then some (most of act 3) was really confused and bothersome. And it is just me, but I don't care at all for how bitter the film industry and some people are toward classic fairytales. Happy endings and string-free wishes are part of the appeal!

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    1. Hi, Sarah. Thanks for reading. I'll have to visit and read your review (I saw it in my dashboard). Sorry you didn't care for the latter part of the film. While I loved this one (overall) and admired it's untraditional approach (for me this ending was happy, because I "saw" it all without actually seeing it on film), I'm really anticipating Disney's Cinderella this spring. Pretty sure that one will be the more happily-ever-after type. Bring it on, I say! :)

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  7. Hmm. I'd wanted to watch this but had heard negative feedback about it -- I'm glad you liked it :-) I'm not overly fond of musicals--I watched Les Mis recently and could hardly handle all the singing (this even though I'm a singer...). Maybe when it comes out on DVD I'll rent it sometime :)

    walking in the air.

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    1. I've seen some so-so comments, too, Hannah. Some of the readers here didn't care for it much either. I totally understand where they're coming from (my mom and aunt had mixed feelings). Though overall, I thought it was spectacular. It told its own story (I don't know how much Disney changed it) and made it unique. If nothing else, it'll likely be a memorable experience for many people because of that. If you go in expecting traditional, you're probably going to be disappointed.

      I hear you on Les Mis! I have to say, I'm glad someone else didn't care for it like the hype made it out to be. I went into it expecting to adore it (I do love the Liam Neeson version) and came out... bored with it. I think it was a huge disservice to the music not to have breaks. I don't remember one section of regular dialogue into he entire movie! That really put me off because it seemed to take away the impact of the music and the poignant themes of the story. Into the Woods is better in terms of music, but there are still several musical numbers. Musicals aren't a genre I watch much of. When I do, it has to be the right "mood." ;)

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  8. I have been dying to see this one!!! My sister who never watches movies because they only watch PG ones really liked it and wasn't offended by the innuendo. She did say she wanted less special effects and it to be more play-ish, but otherwise that the humor and acting was great. Then a friend saw it who watches a lot of movies and was offended by some of the innuendo and thought it was so-so. Kind of ironic. :) I love musicals, sarcasm, and these actors, so I think I'll end up liking it. We hope to see it soon. I also think if the ending isn't all HEA that it would be more true to the classic fairy tales which weren't that way originally. Disney's fairy tales are not Grimm's (like the three little pigs who actually eat the wolf in the original tale). I think sometimes we forget that the original tales were stories to teach people something and usually something rather dark and not-so happy.

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    1. Huh. That is funny, Tressa. Guess it's just how everyone interprets or "takes things in." I wasn't offended by anything (it was more "playish" in most respects with exception to the Wolf, which could be on the edge of PG), but could see some viewers being so. Ironically, I didn't think there were too many special effects at all. I've seen films 100% worse than this actually. The director wanted to do as much as he could without employing effects and it really showed. :)

      Well said! We DO forget that the original fairytales aren't happy. Grimm's tales were... grim. We automatically think of Disney when fairytales come to mind or there version of them. I feel like the ending can be happy if you want it to be. Just because some things happen that are sad doesn't mean what's left unseen doesn't wind up with a happy ending. Or that's how I see it. Hope you like it... as always, I'd love to know what you thought when you do see this one. :)

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  9. I completely agree with you on ALL counts for this movie! =D I wasn't familiar with the play, I assumed it be a bunch of fairytales with new spins on them, and I did not expect such comedy. "Agony" was my favorite number and my sides ached from laughing so hard. It was a lovely, gorgeous movie and because of the music, the amazing music, talented voices I felt as if I were sitting *in* a Broadway play.
    I will say though--for the story and redemption factor alone, Les Miserables is more of a favorite than Into the Woods.

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    1. I think I've talked about the play with others before, but not to the extant that I really "knew" how the story played out, and most of the conversation was after I'd read about this. The film was gorgeous and like you say, it did come across as a Broadway production and I loved that the director used as little special effects as he could. Made it all the more plausible.

      I don't disagree with you about 'Les Mis' themes. I just didn't get all that much out of the musical adaptation because of how it was made. There were NO breaks in the singing and that just wasn't my kind of production.

      'Agony' is possibly THE best number in the entire film. I loved that it was kind of "making fun" in a sense and the way it was filmed was brilliant. ;)

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  10. I LOVED this movie! I've never seen the stage version, but I went with my best friend/stage manager, and she had and didn't like it but couldn't remember why. Turns out it was the false ending that's in it. lol I laughed when people started getting up and ready to leave.

    I'll definitely be adding this to my DVD collection when it's out. It was cute.

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    1. It's funny because I was thinking the wedding was the "end" during the movie. I didn't leave, but my happy-ending mind kept thinking, "oh here's the end." What is the false ending? I'm preordering a copy because I liked it as is, and cannot wait to re-watch it. :) Sorry your friend didn't like it, but yay that you did! I'm of the same enthusiasm as you. It was REALLY good.

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  11. I've heard such mixed reviews on this movie so I was really happy to read your thoughts. I really know nothing about the story and now am more curious than ever! Although I'm a little nervous about the ending...I like happy endings lol. I might take my little sister to go see it this afternoon. Thanks for the great review, Rissi! :)

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    1. I've seen a lot of mixed thoughts as well, Bekah. My mother was so-so (she liked most of it) and my aunt didn't seem to love it as well as mom. So... you know there are a wide range of opinions. I loved it. ;) Usually I am a "must" happy ending kind of girl as well. But this ending didn't bother me. I think it's all in how you perceive it. I believe it was heading to happily-ever-after, some may need the visual proof. Either way, I sure hope you like the film if you decide to see it - I'd be curious to get your thoughts, friend. :)

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  12. I would like to see it.... heard some of the soundtrack and was a bit surprised though: not exactly what I was thinking, but my curiosity and a bit of hope still remain for it!

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    1. I hope if/when you see it, you enjoy! The soundtrack is awesome and though the film isn't traditional, I found it beautiful. :)

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  13. I've been wanting to see Into the Woods! It sounds really interesting and unique. Always interested in fairytales, :)

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    1. The more I think about it, Shantelle, the more I liked Into the Woods. Hope you do as well. :)

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    2. Yes, hope I do! I really need to see it some time! Along with like, a bunch of other movies! :) So many good ones out there.

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    3. There are a bunch of good ones out there. This is one I'm definitely adding to my fairytale collection. :)

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