Required Viewing: Into the Woods

The holidays are officially over, but break sure isn’t. We still have a few weeks until we’re reunited in Oxford, and I’ve always found the best form of home-town entertainment to be bingeing on popcorn, ICEEs, and yes, movies. There’s nothing better than disappearing into a dark movie theatre for a few hours, especially if you’re still recovering from New Year’s.

Into the Woods is the best-made blockbuster of the Holiday movie season; it showcases some of our favorite stars at their finest, features beautiful costuming and sets, and manages to pull off a fascinating statement on moral ambiguity. The film is based off of the musical of the same name, conceived by the great Stephen Sondheim (the same man behind Sweeney Todd). Hollywood has been trying to make an Into the Woods movie for a long time; an animated version was in the works once upon a time, as well as a version starring Robin Williams, Bernadette Peters, and Steve Martin. For one reason or another it didn’t work out until now. But thankfully, Into the Woods is worth the wait.



Director Rob Marshall’s (Chicago) understands how to work the musical genre, and expertly maintains the musical’s adult themes while keeping Into the Woods accessible. The film itself is beautiful, with its aesthetics casting the proper spell. Darker themes are wonderfully emphasized, despite the film’s Disney name tag. However, Marshall’s main coo in this adaptation is his pitch-perfect – pun intended – casting. The Baker and the Baker’s Wife, the two characters who connect the fairy tale stories together, are played by James Corden and Emily Blunt. Blunt especially delivers; she is truly funny, often frantic, and very human. Meryl Streep has a tremendous amount of fun as the witch, crafting a character who is dramatic, sympathetic, and unapologetic. For those of us unimpressed by Streep’s vocal performance in Mamma Mia!, her voice is suited much better to Woods’s score. Anna Kendrick charms as Cinderella, though occasionally feels false in the film’s more emotional moments. The kids of the film – Jack of the beanstalk (Daniel Huttlestone) and Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) – are appropriately precious and impressively add nuance to the darker aspects of their stories. The supporting cast – especially the Princes and Cinderella’s Step-family – are a joy to watch. Prince Charming (Chris Pine) and his brother (Billy Magnussen) steal the show with their hilariously over-the-top duet “Agony.”

For as funny as Into the Woods can be, it can also be pretty dark. The second half of the film makes a dramatic turn, focusing on themes of sex and death more explicitly. It’s the deconstruction of the first half’s fairy-tale plot – the wish-fulfillment, the whimsical wittiness, the narratives we’re so familiar with – that makes the film compelling, or at least worth discussing in a Literature class.

Into the Woods can be seen in theaters across the U.S. The trailer is below:

– Jenny Henderson