Review: Into The Woods


Into The Woods Still Photo

Fairy tales may appeal to young and old alike, but before the contemporary sanitized versions many of these stories, deeply rooted in centuries old folklore, were quite grim and complex with both obvious and not-so-obvious meaning.

In the 1976 book Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, psychologist Bruno Bettelheim analyzed the symbolic motifs and emotional importance of fairy tales, including those collected and published by the Brothers Grimm. He opined that the darkness and brutality of abandonment and death gave children the ability to process their fears and learn from the moral of each story.

The film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim 1987 musical Into the Woods weaves several favorite tales into one complex story for adults with many of our favorite characters. The base story created for this production is that of "The Baker and his Wife," a barren couple (James Corden and Emily Blunt) who desperately want to have a child.

Unfortunately their house is cursed by the Witch (Meryl Streep) next door, because long ago, the baker's father stole magic beans from her vegetable garden. As repayment, the Witch also took a baby who has grown up hidden away in a tall tower and is now the beautiful maiden Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy). The baker and his wife can only break the spell by gathering a cape as red as blood, a cow as white as milk, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper of gold -- all items from the interwoven tales of Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Jack and the Beanstalk (Daniel Huttlestone) and Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford).

The premise of Into the Woods is the age-old sage advice of "be careful what you wish for," delivering a bit of a refreshing twist to the stereotypical naivete of children and young women. Whether it's a boy discovering the world or a maiden learning that princes can be charming but not sincere, there's always a lesson to be learned.

The imagery created within this movie that accompanies the narrative lyrics truly embraces much of Bettelheim's opinions. Most notably, the motif of the huntsman -- in the movie it's the baker -- cutting open the Wolf is interpreted as a "rebirth" of the girl who foolishly listened to the Wolf (Johnny Depp).

The ensemble cast members are well matched to their roles, from young actors to veterans. Crawford meets the challenges of her role, interacting well with more seasoned actors while exuding innocence. The standout vocal performance by far is from Streep, who delivers some of the most wicked and heart-wrenching songs of the film. British comedian Corden shows he can embrace a dramatic role, and is paired well with the ever-talented Blunt.

The production for Into the Woods is magical, with impressive costumery that plays well against the film's overall art design.

Into The Woods offers a wickedly inventive twist on classic stories in a lushly wrapped package of stellar performances and masterful score. I highly recommend seeing at a local theater for a more visually and auditory immersive experience.