Review by Amber
What do you wish for? Love? Money? Adventure? We make all sorts of wishes, great and small—sometimes without even thinking. What would happen if we actually got everything we wished for? While Steven Sondheim’s Into the Woods is, on the surface, a musical mash-up of Grimm fairy tales, it is an intricate story full of trials, tribulations, and self-discovery.
Into the Woods is a screen adaptation of an acclaimed Broadway musical—so in case it isn’t clear, there is a lot of singing. If you are someone who does not like musicals or movie musicals, this movie is not for you. I personally enjoy both of those things. Director Rob Marshall (Chicago) does a great job incorporating stage techniques and traditions into the movie, while balancing those with all that the film medium has to offer. The cast is excellent, led by Emily Blunt, James Corden, Meryl Streep, and Anna Kendrick (Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep have already been nominated for Golden Globe Awards for their performances). Chris Pine (Star Trek) is hilarious as Cinderella’s handsome prince; Johnny Depp is thoroughly creepy as the Wolf; and Daniel Huttlestone (Les Misérables) is fantastic as Jack. The cast of Into the Woods delivers great vocal performances as well, and of course when seeing a musical, the vocals are just as important as the acting performances. The film is also amazing to look at—the art direction and the visual effects are top notch, and Colleen Atwood’s costume designs are an artistic mix of period clothing, modern couture, and fairytale fantasy.
In the opening musical number, “Into the Woods,” the characters are all wishing for things they don’t have—and feel they will never have. The baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) wish for a child, and the witch (Meryl Streep) suddenly bursts into their home and tells them she can grant their wish. In order to do this, the couple must go on a quest for the items the witch needs to perform her spell. Cinderella wishes to go to the king’s festival, so she runs to her mother’s grave under the weeping willow, and she is given a ball gown and shoes so that she may go to the palace. All of the characters have wishes of their own—Red, Jack, Rapunzel, the princes, and even the witch—and all of the wishes come true. But there is a cost. Do they really even want what they wished for? Did they know what they wanted when they made the wish? Has what they wanted changed? Have they themselves changed?
Fairy tales have always been rife with metaphor and moral lessons, and Into the Woods unifies the many stories that it brings together by creating an underlying theme to all of the diverse lessons: be careful what you wish for. Traditionally, the woods symbolize the wild and untamed aspects of human nature. The characters live in the civilized, orderly villages; but when they go into the woods, everything changes—including themselves. Suddenly they take chances, become braver, become more adventurous, more mischievous, and a little out of control. All of this provides the opportunity for the characters to discover who they really are—without the confines and restrictions of their safe little villages. Once they begin exploring and figuring out who they are and what they want, they find out that what they wished for isn’t necessarily what they want or need. As the spirit of Cinderella’s mother asks her from the willow tree: “Do you know what you wish? Are you sure what you wish is what you want?”
Once a few wishes are granted in Into the Woods, the subsequent events wreak havoc across the entire kingdom. As Christians, we pray for a lot of things, great and small. But we don’t always get what we ask or pray for (or wish for), and that is a good thing. God answers prayer, but sometimes He says “no,” or “not now.” But His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). While we cannot see the bigger picture of how our lives and our actions affect the world around us, God does see it. If we were to receive everything we prayed for, our lives would probably be chaotic and/or disastrous. What we think we want may not be the best thing for us. Are we sure that what we wish is what we want?
Into the Woods is a great Broadway musical adapted into a great movie. I was surprised to see so many people bringing their young children into the theater for this movie. Fairy tale does not necessarily equal kid-friendly—especially when the source material comes from the Grimm brothers. Additionally, anyone who has ever seen anything written by Steven Sondheim knows that things can get pretty dark (I was actually expecting the movie to be a lot darker than it was). There is plenty of comedy too—and using the two handsome princes as ridiculous comic relief is pretty genius. I highly recommend Into the Woods—as long as you have no particular aversion to musicals! 4.5 stars