Into The Woods – a musical fairytale but not as you know it

Posted on 15 January 2015
By George Heron
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It is surprising that it has taken Hollywood this long to adapt another of Stephen Sondheim’s musicals to the big screen since Sweeney Todd is the perfect combination of memorable tunes, graphic violence and Helena Bonham Carter.

The long wait is over as Into The Woods has catapulted to the big screen.

A myriad of fairy tales combine in this fantasy epic. You’ve got Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderalla and Rapunzel amongst others.

Now, don’t be fooled into thinking that this film is for children as subversion is the name of the game here.

The script is 80% song and the first thirty minutes is filled with full-on singing in the style of fast-paced opera. It might be a bit daunting at first but the melodies are so hypnotic that you get swept away in the harmonies and counter-melodies of songs like the opening self-titled ditty, “Agony” and “Stay With Me”.

There’s plenty of humour to keep things ticking along nicely too – the funniest part being the scene of “Agony” where the two princes compete with one another as to who is in love the most.

All singers put on an outstanding performance. Who’d have thought Chris Pine (Star Trek reboot) could sing with such passion, that Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow) could do so much more than destroy aliens, and that James Corden (Gavin and Stacey – yuck) would stop being annoying.

One particular star of the show is central to it all: Meryl Streep as the witch.

The Special FX team had to work really hard to make her look like an ugly accursed witch and Streep’s method acting takes it to another level.

She is genuinely terrifying in cursed form – a sorrowful creature in the mould of Gollum (especially the facial expressions) except with more clothing. She puts such venom into her singing. Give her an Oscar why don’t ya?

If you tuned into Graham Norton over New Year you would have seen Anna Kendrick appear with Liam Neeson and company. The clip played had no context and did not display the full beauty of her voice. Don’t be put off by the BBC’s poor choice of video.

The directing and cinematography are also superb, with the woods coming across as epic as anything from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Considering most of the film plays out in the woods, they have ensured it is not a tedious experience.

The camerawork is meticulous when the Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Depp) comes on the scene which is reminiscent of Raimi’s Evil Dead – which perfectly sums up the overall tone. It’s darker than your average fairy tale.

People are blinded, die, eaten alive, assaulted, and have body parts amputated. You’ll find that these kinds of horrors happen in the original fairy tales.

Even if you don’t like musicals, give it a chance.