Out of the many movies released on Christmas Day, I was most excited to see Into the Woods…because American Sniper and Selma weren’t playing anywhere near me.
Based off the musical stage production, Into the Woods is a movie that takes several traditional fairy tales (Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, etc.) and mashes them all together into a nontraditional overarching story.
I really don’t want to call Into the Woods “a fairy tale with a twist.” All the characters in this movie have had their stories retold recently, and they’ve all used this slogan to describe themselves, no matter how bland and formulaic they may end up being. But Into the Woods really is just a fairly tale with a twist.
That being said, this particular retelling is something special. Into the Woods is a fun and meaningful examination of fairy tale characters and how they relate to us as humans.
What I liked
Whoever cast this movie deserves a cake. Every actor and actress played his or her role fantastically, so much so that I sometimes forgot whom I was watching on screen. First off, let’s talk about Meryl Streep. She plays a somewhat-evil witch that sends our two main characters on their journey, and she does a fantastic job doing so. There were some times when the witch would awkwardly show up just to make a snide remark or remind the audience of where the heroes were in their journey, but it didn’t really matter because her character was so much fun to watch. She steals every scene she’s in and makes no apology for doing so.
Other performances from the likes of James Corden, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick and Chris Pine stand strong, even in their fairy tale stereotypes. What was most impressive to me about the cast was how well they could sing. Asking A-List actors to hold a tune is often a bit of a challenge, and it was nice to see each performer rise to that challenge.
By the way, if you haven’t picked up on this yet: there’s a ton of singing in this movie. I’d say about 80% of the dialogue is sung. Seriously. Know what you’re getting into.
Also, Into the Woods was surprisingly funny. I know this is a movie meant for kids, but there’s plenty of humor to keep adults laughing as well. The movie exudes a confident self-awareness that gives a nice comedic punch to the story, especially in some of the musical numbers.
Of course, what would a fairly tale be without a message? If that’s similar to how you think, then rest assured. Not only is there one overarching moral of the story, there are dozens hidden inside each subplot. Want to know the best part? They’re all superb. This is how Into the Woods draws comparisons between the audience and the fairy tale characters we’re used to seeing as archetypes. The film uses its self-proclaimed “twist” to reveal different meanings in each story that make the characters seem less like fairy tales and more like people. Into the Woods has some serious heart, and is one of the most human and self-aware fairy tales in a long time.
What I didn’t like
The second half of Into the Woods is extraordinarily problematic to me, because it’s where the movie hides both its dirty laundry and its golden eggs. The movie is a fairy tale with a twist, and that twist just so happens to cause mental whiplash when it arrives. The dramatic shift in tone is jarring, and it clearly illustrates where Act I would transition to Act II in the stage production. Sure, there are hints in Act I that foreshadow the shift, but they’re not nearly enough to brace the audience for the impact felt upon arrival.
While there were great meanings in the subplots of the movie’s second half, there were some that just felt superfluous. This doesn’t really take away from the movie, but it does push you to check your watch just a little more often.
Into the Woods is the kind of fairy tale movie every parent needs to take his or her kids to see. It may be dark in some areas, but it makes interesting points about life and expectations in a fun way that ultimately works to the benefit of the viewer, no mater what age he or she is. Into the Woods isn’t an adventure with fairy tales, it’s an adventure with people, and it’s a movie I would recommend to anyone who grew up on these different fairy tales.
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