Inspired by Bruno Bettelheim’s twisted psychoanalytical take on every fable from Snow White to Sleeping Beauty, Into the Woods is a mythical yet modern mash-up of classic fairy tales with the intertwining stories of Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella with some giants and an enchanted wood thrown in for good measure.
The motion picture version of Stephen Sondheim’s Tony award-winning Broadway musical combines elements of beloved childhood favourites with realistic twists showing the audience that sometimes that good guys don’t survive their heroic injuries, sometimes the enviable dream couple aren’t faithful to each other and not everyone gets their happily ever after.
The twisted fairy tale opens with a baker (James Cordon) and his wife (Emily Blunt) who are struggling to start a family due to a barren curse cast upon their house by a wrinkled, hunch-over, blue-haired witch: enter the magnificent (or perhaps ‘maleficent’ would be a more fitting word) Meryl Streep. In order to break the spell, the baker and his wife have until the next blue moon to retrieve objects from the woods to give to the witch. Sondheim’s genius interlinking plot comes into play at this point as the baker and his wife have to find: hair as yellow as corn (belonging to Rapunzel), a cow as white as milk (the cow that Jack exchanges for magic beans), a cloak as red as blood (the cape worn by Little Red Riding Hood) and a slipper as pure as gold (the glass slipper worn by Cinderella).
The first act of the film depicts each character over-coming obstacles and making questionable choices in order to achieve their happy ending. However, as the movie hits the half way mark, the picturesque lives of the baker and his wife, who now have their bouncing baby boy, and the other mystical characters begin to crumble as the consequences of their earlier actions catch up with them. As well as the moral lessons incorporated throughout the film by director Rob Marshall, Into the Woods is also interspersed with details from the original and unsavoury versions of fairy tales which were cut out of the Disney classics to make them suitable for children. These parts that differ from the film adaptations we all know and love include the ugly sisters cutting off their toes and heels in order to squeeze their large feet into the glass slipper and then being blinded by Cinderella’s birds for having ‘beautiful faces and fair skin but hearts that were foul and black’ according to the Brothers Grimm tale.
By creating a balanced blend of these treasured childhood fictions with real life tribulations and snippets of the gruesome original folklore, Marshall makes Into the Woods a film that is accessible to adults as well as children. This colourful and hysterical musical extravaganza mixed with magic and myth will become a family favourite that keep the kids singing along for hours after the unconventional happily ever after.