I’m not sure if I am a fan of musicals. I mean, I usually love the songs I find, but it’s not often that I am patient enough to watch the whole thing. I knew of Into the Woods when Mihaela asked me to write about it (months ago… sorry, love), but I didn’t know I will be dealing with a musical. I watched it a couple of days after the request came and now is the time to write about it. There will be spoilers here and there, so be careful.
The film was released in 2014 (the title was translated in Romanian as În inima pădurii) and it was directed by Rob Marshall. He worked with Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the music for the 1986 musical bearing the same name (book by James Lapine). I admit, I did not expect something like this from Disney, but I am so happy to have watched it. I love how well-known fairytales are once again brought back to life, the casting is amazing and the songs… they could have been sung better, but it’s still an enjoyable experience.
I remember getting bored towards the end, it feels like it’s a bit too long, so I needed to pause it a couple of times. But, overall, I truly liked the film. So… Once upon a time some Grimm fairytales were put together and their characters sent, for different reasons, into the woods mentioned in the title. There is a narrator (the Baker, as we’ll discover) who introduces these characters: Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack, the Baker, his wife and a few others. What they have in common is the fact that each of them has a wish. That’s not out of the ordinary, right? The thing is, even as you see the poster for the film, one line stands out: Be careful what you wish for. The musical pokes fun at fairytales and yes, you will find yourself laughing here and there… but it has a rather dark touch to it, sometimes visible, other times lurking in the distance. A wish might come true, but do the characters actually know what they need?
There is a song towards the end and a part of it is this: “sometimes people leave you halfway through the woods/ do not let it grieve you/ no one leaves for good/ you are not alone”. I enjoyed the film not because it is the best I’ve seen, it isn’t, but because there’s something touching in this mass of magic, wishes and darkness. Every character has a story to tell, we are shown once again that there is never only one side to said story and that morality is more often than not relative (“you decide what’s right, you decide what’s good”). Fairytales usually end with “and they all lived happily ever after”. Alright, but what happens when someone actually looks further, beyond that happy ending.
We’ll see poverty, death and a sexual undertone. For instance, Depp’s wolf is deeply disturbing. And Cinderella’s prince deserves to be punched in the face. As we deserve to see more princes ripping their shirts open while singing in a river (thank you, Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen!). Also, I’ve grown used to characters whose qualities are emphasised, but here it’s the other way around. We do see what’s good in them, but we are also shown a rather familiar, less flattering side. Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), for instance, wishes to go to the ball (and she does), but she cannot decide whether to stay and face the prince or not. Will they be together? Her choice is to leave a shoe behind so that the next step would be taken by him.
Happy endings are not guaranteed especially because we cannot speak of an ending per se. Cinderella realises that she is in love with a faraway prince, while Prince Charming loves the maiden who ran away. They love ideal figures and are not quite ready to go deeper and accept what they find there. Also, people die, but life goes on. The idea that family is important, that friends will be there to offer help… that’s still obvious, just presented in a slightly different way than what we might expect from Disney. There is too much happening before the final once upon a time is uttered and you know that the characters won’t leave the woods unchanged.
What else? I love the soundtrack, it reminds me a lot of Sweeney Todd. Also, the imagery and the way the woods look is lovely. Darkness cannot be ignored and the contrast between the woods and the world around this mysterious place is highlighted by the colours and the transition from light and a normal village rooted in reality to shadows and a world of magic, where anything can happen. Have I mentioned that James Corden is the one who plays the baker aka the narrator? Yes, now I want to rewatch Doctor Who episodes. Again. I don’t know if there are any poems (or audiobooks) read by him, but I’ll see what I can find. His voice goes well with this particular story, so why shouldn’t we get more?
Final note: I’ve seen this film only once and, as much as I admire quite a few actors who starred in it, I’d watch it again for Meryl Streep. I love how she played the witch, how she sang and… I can’t think of anything I didn’t like about her performance. Even if I hated Into the Woods (not possible, by the way), I’d still watch it for her. So, what do you think about the musical?
Image source: 3 – streepdaily
by Elena Atudosiei