Director: Rob Marshall
Cast: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman, Christine, Baranski and Johnny Depp. Lilla Crawford, Daniel Huttlestone, MacKenzie Mauzy, Billy Magnussen, Tammy Blanchard, Lucy Punch, Frances de la Tour, Simon Russell Beale, Richard Glover, Joanna Riding, Annette Crosbie
Runtime: 2 hrs 4 mins
Released By: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Official Website: https://www.facebook.com/DisneyIntoTheWoods
Opening Day: 15 January 2015
Synopsis: “Into the Woods” is a modern twist on the beloved Brothers Grimm fairy tales, intertwining the plots of a few choice stories and exploring the consequences of the characters’ wishes and quests. This humorous and heartfelt musical follows the classic tales of Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Jack and the Beanstalk (Daniel Huttlestone), and Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy)—all tied together by an original story involving a baker and his wife (James Corden & Emily Blunt), their wish to begin a family and their interaction with the witch (Meryl Streep) who has put a curse on them.
Disclaimer: This reviewer has not watched the musical. Then again, probably 80% of Singaporeans have not either. (If you have watched it overseas or caught Glen Goei’s production of it in 2011, then okay, come I clap for you.)
If one were to carefully scrutinize fairy tales, one would come to the conclusion that characters in fairytales are fairly simple-minded and extremely gullible. Point in case, you have the following in Grimm’s Fairy Tales:
(a) Cinderella: Young woman goes to a graveyard to ask for help when her stepmother bars her from going to the ball
(b) Rapunzel: Man decides that stealing cabbages from a witch’s garden is a good idea
(c) Little Red Riding Hood: Girl cannot distinguish between a wolf and her grandma and lastly,
(d) Jack and the Beanstalk: Boy thinks that selling his cow for 5 magic beans is a fair trade
But what if. What if the characters developed a sense of awareness? What if they knew their quirks and eccentricities? What if they were generous enough to talk, or rather, sing about their own idiosyncrasies? Then BOOM, you have Into the Woods.
A skillful retelling of the four aforementioned fairy tales, Into the Woods begins with a “Once Upon a Time” narration of characters we are are all familiar with: Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) wants to meet the Prince (Chris Pine) at the ball, Little Red Riding Hood (Lilia Crawford) has to visit her grandmother, Jack needs to sell his cow in the neighbouring village and the Baker (James Cordon) and his wife (Emily Blunt) needs to find the ingredients needed to lift the curse set by the Witch (Meryl Streep). Each on their quest to fulfill their personal wishes, the characters find their paths colliding in the woods, their interactions accumulating into the “Happily Ever After” that we are often told. But here is when Into the Woods deviates from fairy tales filled with pastel drawings of sweet, lovely things. While fairy tales conveniently conclude with diabetic endings, Into the Woods directs viewers to the consequences of each character’s actions. It seems (according to the film) that there is no such thing as a happy ending when you marry a promiscuous prince, kill giants for no good reason, have a child when you are not ready for fatherhood and go around being all too nice.
Since Into the Woods was adapted from a musical, there was really nothing much that this reviewer could say of its plot. Seeing that Hollywood would dump millions of cold hard cash to produce a film version of it, one would assume that the story was great to begin with (and it is). What would make the film brilliant then, would be the other elements not associated with the story. And boy, would that convince you that Into the Woods was worth the money (or your parent’s, no judging). A feast for the visual viewer, Into the Woods had great costume design, as seen from Streep’s blue puffy gown and Johnny Depp’s Tex Avery-inspired wolf suit. Granted, the production design might be 50% CGI-rendered but it was still authentic enough to immerse viewers into the world of the characters. Blunt was especially relatable in her role as the confused Baker’s wife and Pine was equally convincing as the douchebag prince who was “taught to be charming, not sincere”. Streep, as usual, gave a brilliant performance as the edgy but motherly Witch with psycho eyes. In fact, quoting a flamboyant character on Modern Family, “Meryl Streep would play Batman and be the right choice”. On the whole, the ensemble cast also belted out songs that were pleasing to the ear, with the favourite being “Agony” and “Hello, Little Girl”.
That being said, Into the Woods does have its flaws. While the transition between the first and second act of the story worked well in musicals, the same does not apply to films. As viewers are not granted any kind of intermission, it is easy to assume that the film has reached its conclusion when the characters get their wishes granted. The change in tone may hence be unsettling to viewers, making the film slightly draggy after the first act. But it’s the new year, and it’s this reviewer’s resolution to be kinder. Hence, looking past that annoying flaw, Into the Woods is definitely one musical you should not miss.
(A PG but dark re-telling of fairy tales, Into the Woods is a wonderful and refreshing musical that can watch with your 8 year old newphew, 18 year old girlfriend or 80 year old Ah Gong)
Review by Leng Mong