‘Into the Woods’: A Fairytale Mashup Musical Extravaganza

January 2, 2015 29 Comments

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 the middle ground; it’s both comedic and bittersweet. When first learning of Into the Woods, there’s two things I didn’t realize. One being that this is a popular stage production.

Into the Woods (2014) Film Review

Once upon a time in a small village at the edge of the woods there lives 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 they have in common is the wishes their hearts desire most. Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) desperately wants one magical night at the palace. Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) is on her way to visit her grandmother with warnings 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. Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) lives with his stern mother who is fed up with life. Her tolerance ends today when she sends Jack on an errand. Normalcy is about to end for them all.  

This story may start with once upon a time… but to reach a happy ending, these strangers are about to form alliances they never expected.

Wow. I’m not sure where to begin with Disney’s latest blockbuster. (And all without giving away spoilers.) There’s certainly lots of spoilers for 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, and a narrator introduces us to the main players. What strikes me most isn’t the voices or the production itself, it’s the comedy! I really did not expect this approach to the material. Not knowing 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, and this is a nice offset considering everything else that goes sideways.

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If you like me, did any reading about Into the Woods, it informs us that in its original form, this story is raunchy, 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 another moment nearer the end leaves us stumped, and wondering how we misjudged characters. That being said, I really don’t think much of anything dampens the experience of seeing this on the big screen. The vocals and performances are memorable and for once, the songs don’t run together, which is a huge musical pet peeve of mine.

Speaking strictly of the production and sets, this film is glorious. Rob Marshall’s vision exceeds expectations; more so since 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 set is appropriately creepy and beautiful, as is the work of an Oscar-winning costume designer (Colleen Atwood), and an all-star cast (who are brilliant – even the actor and vocal newbies), this film has enough magic to set the perfect atmospheric stage. Really, I’m unable to lay any faults at its door.  

This wouldn’t be a thorough gush if I didn’t say something.; Into the Woods is not an old-fashioned fairytale. For those of you who don’t like spoilers, I’m sorry, but… I do have to say this. 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. (Not the hilarious musical number, ‘Agony’ with Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen.) The second half of the unconventional is to make sure nothing about this is a “happily ever after” sort of tale. Truthfully, it succeeds… or at least in the traditional sense.

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‘Into the Woods’: A Fairytale Mashup Musical Extravaganza. A review of the 2014 Disney film with an all-star cast. Text © Rissi JC

I saw this with my mom and aunt, and between the three of us, we have very different opinions of the film. My mom and aunt don’t care for the end (to an extent). As a whole picture, my aunt doesn’t love the movie; I adore it and my mom fall somewhere in between. 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 give myself time to process the film, the greatest aspect of it is really its message. I admire that Disney doesn’t give us a stereotypical fairytale. This one is darker, and most impressive, it imprints a lesson.

Purposeful or not, there is something more to this movie than a pretty picture. In the closing credits, it leaves us a message: no matter our wishes, if we strike a bargain to obtain them, they won’t come without a price.  

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‘Into the Woods’: A Fairytale Mashup Musical Extravaganza. A review of the 2014 Disney film with an all-star cast. Text © Rissi JC

Content: PG, this film shies away from anything graphic [there are a number of deaths, which happen off-screen] or overly suggestive. One musical number shows the wolf wanting (to eat) Red Riding Hood as he croons about her innocence and “flesh.” A married woman almost runs away with another man; they kiss.

About Rissi JC

amateur photog. #bookblogger. downton abbey. inspys. internet-photo-shy. writer. the aspiration is to someday write professionally. a girl can dream, right?

Rissi JC

amateur photog. #bookblogger. downton abbey. inspys. internet-photo-shy. writer. the aspiration is to someday write professionally. a girl can dream, right?

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29 Comments

  • Kristin January 2, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    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! :)

    • Rissi January 2, 2015 at 8:45 pm

      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…

  • Dawn Janis January 2, 2015 at 2:47 pm

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

    • Rissi January 2, 2015 at 8:49 pm

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

  • SW January 2, 2015 at 10:01 pm

    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

    • Rissi January 4, 2015 at 12:34 am

      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. :)

  • serena January 3, 2015 at 12:19 am

    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…

    • Rissi January 4, 2015 at 12:35 am

      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…! :)

  • Dawn Janis January 3, 2015 at 9:13 pm

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

    • Rissi January 4, 2015 at 12:36 am

      '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. :)

  • Sarah January 4, 2015 at 12:17 am

    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!

    • Rissi January 4, 2015 at 12:38 am

      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! :)

  • Hannah Barta January 7, 2015 at 4:13 am

    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.

    • Rissi January 7, 2015 at 5:37 pm

      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." ;)

  • Tressa S January 8, 2015 at 9:52 pm

    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.

    • Rissi January 10, 2015 at 3:58 am

      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. :)

  • Meghan Gorecki January 11, 2015 at 7:20 pm

    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.

    • Rissi January 12, 2015 at 6:03 pm

      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. ;)

  • Erin January 14, 2015 at 5:47 am

    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.

    • Rissi January 14, 2015 at 5:01 pm

      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.

  • Bekah M. January 14, 2015 at 6:51 pm

    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! :)

    • Rissi January 15, 2015 at 12:33 am

      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. :)

  • Hey there! February 9, 2015 at 8:45 pm

    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!

    • Rissi February 10, 2015 at 3:45 am

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

  • Shantelle H. February 20, 2015 at 6:35 pm

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

    • Rissi February 21, 2015 at 12:50 am

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

    • Shantelle H. February 21, 2015 at 1:36 am

      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.

    • Rissi February 21, 2015 at 3:36 am

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

  • 2015 Oscars | Finding Wonderland April 29, 2021 at 6:43 pm

    […] Seeing Anna Kendrick in her Into the Woods costume singing in the opening […]

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