Into the Woods

To start with, I was not mentally prepared for Into The Woods to be a musical. I hadn’t seen any trailers, only posters on the tube featuring fab Meryl, so didn’t really know entirely what to expect, only that it was Disney doing a fairytale mash-up, and I love me a fairytale mash-up! So when Anna Kendrick started singing about how she wanted to go to the festival a slow sense of dread crept over me. James Corden was going to sing. I had tried to push the thought of him even featuring in this to the back of my mind, to try to ignore his presence in an attempt to enjoy it, but the thought of him actually singing made me feel a bit sick.
In all fairness, James Corden wasn’t that insufferable when you could approach his appearance with a sense of humour, in that you can laugh at him being out-acted from every angle by literally everybody else on screen, and then you can kind of get over how utterly insufferable he is. But anyway, Corden-bashing aside, I quite enjoyed Into the Woods for what it was: a playful pantomime that was semi-self aware with lyrics and script but also taking itself a little bit more seriously in the hair, make-up and costume departments. It didn’t go full-Shrek and attack the fairytale genre from every angle and twist everything with a modern play on fairytale codes and conventions but it did maintain a humorous consciousness surrounding the state of semi-absurdity of the fairytale world.

One travesty that has plagued recent fantasy films has been an abundance of CGI effects used, which was happily not the case with Into the Woods. Most of the time scenes were performed in what I would describe as ‘classic’ sound-stages with physical sets to work around and play off of as opposed to the soulless green screen. This added to the pantomime feel but also to the sense of the ‘woods’ being a believable fairytale location. I read somewhere that CGI is so jarring because it is an illusion of an illusion, whereas using real sets is merely an illusion, and is therefore easier for the brain to interpret. I am all for less CGI and more models, etc where sets are concerned because I think ultimately it just looks better and less lazy (LotR vs. The Hobbit, for example) and some of the sets in Into the Woods are incredibly detailed and real, and hence more wonderful because of it. As a theme park enthusiast I cannot help but liken actual sets in fantasy films to the detailed and immersive theming in parks such as Efteling and definitely feel that the sensation of magic is sustained in environments such as these.

The hair, make-up and costumes were stunning. I’m so excited that two fantasy movies have been nominated for Best Costume Design at the Oscars this year (the other being Maleficent) and having seen both I am in full agreement that these nominations are deserved. To create such flawlessly extravagant outfits that are simultaneously modern yet timeless with ball gowns that manage to capture that seamless sparkle that seems to only exist in Disney animation is an astounding achievement that I hope the academy go out of their way to honour this year. The make-up was also incredible; how a person can go from making Meryl Streep look that haggard to that flawless and young is insane, and the Witch’s blue motif in her transformed state was phenomenal.

I did worry a little bit when the prince characters appeared as Disney have taken to smashing down the Prince Charming conventions with a giant hammer in recent years. Into the Woods not only gave the two princes actually character development but made them into believable and realistic human beings. Prince Charming himself, although not exactly a nice character, was enjoyable in his own impish way. He reminded me a little of Gaston in that he had charm and looks but was still a bit of an ogre at heart. And their duet had me dying; one of my absolute favourite scenes in the movie.

The pacing of the film did feel a little hectic for me. At times it felt a little too mashed up and didn’t know whether it was coming or going. Whereas previous fairytale hybrids such as Shrek have taken well-known fairytale story elements and either woven together the key components to make a new storyline or faded in-jokes into the background as gags, Into the Woods tried to take full story-lines, characters and all, and put them together in one big melting pot and prayed it would mesh. It felt to me like a lot of exposition wasn’t needed because, guess what, we’ve seen/heard these stories a hundred times, we know what happens! The film lost its way a few times and a lot of characters felt superfluous, even after they had loosely been drawn back into relevance at the end. 

Into the Woods has a delightfully impish style of storytelling. It is playful with Disney fairytale conventions but doesn’t shy away from the more gruesome aspects of classic fairytale style. Aesthetically it reminded me a lot of the European theme park theming, which is a sure-fire way to winning my heart and the costumes, hair and make-up complimented the fantastical set-design flawlessly. The cast, ignoring Corden, were superb and incredibly enjoyable to watch, like an all-star Christmas panto with less Z-listers, more acting talent and just the right amount of cameo appearances. It lost its way narratively half-way through but that can be forgiven considering the fairly high standards of everything else in this fab little flick!