Movie review: Into the Woods - happily never after

Despite featuring all major fairytale characters, Into the Woods fails to create the magic

Sameen Amer February 15, 2015
Despite featuring all major fairytale characters, Into the Woods fails to create the magic.

While the idea of fractured fairytales might have been relatively fresh when Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine wrote the musical Into the Woods almost three decades ago, much of the novelty of the concept has since worn off. Reworkings and mashups of classic fables have become increasingly popular in the last few years, generating a number of books, television series and films. That might be one of the reasons why Into the Woods’ film adaptation does not feel quite as impressive as it probably should.

Inspired by the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales, the fantasy crossover film combines some familiar stories. A vengeful witch (Meryl Streep) offers to lift a curse she placed on the family tree of a childless baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt), if they can procure four items for her: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold. The couple’s quest leads them into the woods, where they cross paths with Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) and Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) from Jack and the Beanstalk. But just when things seem to be going as expected, the film takes a darker turn and strips the stories of their happily-ever-after ending.

While musicals abound in the enchanted land of fairy tales, Into the Woods tries to set itself apart in the second act with its bleak take on relationships, riddled with deception and regret. But things get so convoluted that it’s easy to lose interest in the proceedings. The film becomes more of a drag than an exploration of the complexity of morality. The overlong running time doesn’t help and neither does the fact that the speak-sung music numbers — although clearly very competently put together — aren’t exactly catchy or instantly memorable.

The acting, however, is very impressive. Each role is perfectly cast and everyone from Streep and Blunt to Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen (who play Cinderella and Rapunzel’s respective princes) delivers strong performances. The duet ‘Agony’ is perhaps the film’s musical highlight and is in stark contrast to Johnny Depp’s glorified cameo as the Big Bad Wolf which is still uncomfortably creepy.

Despite not being very inventive, Into the Woods is visually impressive but its execution is not as seamless as it could have been. The developments seem more haphazard than elegant and the humour is often not effective. Ultimately, the film doesn’t leave you with much of an emotional impact and, despite its fantasy setting, is strangely devoid of magic.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, February 15th, 2015.


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