Into The Woods: The movie that you've been missing all your life, and you didn't even know it

Into The Woods has played a role in my life for the past seven or so years when I first started to link Sondheim's works together and fall deeply in love with his masterpieces. I've been head over heels in love with fairy tales all my life and to discover this new twist on those tales with music by one of the greatest composers who has ever lived was pretty damn awesome.

I'd listen to the Original Broadway and London recordings in turn and watched the Original Broadway production that they recorded over and over again as I went through an obsessive phase, and then when I fell out of that phase, I soon realised that these songs were the songs that I never get tired of.

Fast forward four years to 2012 and the home of my fairy tale loves Disney announces that Into The Woods is going to be made into a film, and 13 year old Shaun gets excited, so much so that I'm sure my mother is glad that I've finally seen the film so that I don't keep showing her production images, playing videos from the show, and standing on the stairs singing Cinderella's "On The Steps of the Palace" (okay, maybe that bit didn't quite happen... but that song is my absolute favourite). Fast forward another two and a half years to 2015 and here we are: the movie is finally here. And my God did it not disappoint.

Let me start by filling you in with an as-short-as-possible, spoiler-free version of the film's plot (we'll talk about changes that were made from the original show later on). In the Prologue of the film, we are introduced to The Baker and his Wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt respectively) who are being paid a visit by Little Red Riding Hood who is pleading for bread for her Granny before she sets off into the woods to go to her house. Shortly afterwards, The Witch (Meryl Streep) swoops in to talk about the curse she once put on the Baker's father meaning that his family tree "would always be a baron one", much to their disgust. She then goes on to tell them that the only way to "reverse the curse" would be to go into the woods and bring her back "the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn and the slipper as pure as gold". Meanwhile, we're introduced to Cinderella and her stepsisters that are off to attend the Prince's royal ball where he is in search for a Princess, and Jack from Jack and the Beanstalk being sent off to go through the woods and sell the family cow at market.

When in the woods, things start to get a little bit crazy. The Baker and his wife spend the vast majority of the story trying to hunt down Little Red Riding Hood again for her cloak, chasing after Jack's cow, trying to steal Cinderella's golden slipper that she wore to the ball when she finally found a way to go, and trying to hunt down the yellow hair that happens to be Rapunzel's. While all of this is happening, several subplots are carried out along the way including Cinderella's on/off relationship with the prince, Jack's involvement with the giants in the sky he has found up the beanstalk that grew from the Baker's magic beans (that in turn, were the cause of the curse in the first place after his father stole them from the Witch... but now it's just getting confusing), Little Red Riding Hood's want for compassion and Rapunzel's desire to escape from her mother (The Witch, who loves her very dearly). Yes, that is a very basic explanation of the plot...

Still before I tell you about my thoughts and opinions on the movie, let's talk about the changes that have been made to the story for those that know and love the original tale as much as I do (a few spoilers lie in this paragraph!). For starters, several songs have been cut to condense the film including the first two 'Midnight' songs and "I Guess This Is Goodbye", and lyrics have been slightly altered as well to suit the slightly altered storylines. These include the Narrator being The Baker as opposed to his father, Rapunzel not having twins or dying and instead just leaving the kingdom with her prince, both of the princes having affairs with Snow White and Sleeping Beauty in turn, when the entrance of the Giant's Wife occurs and how, how violent many moments like deaths are (including the death of Jack's mother and the death of the Baker's Wife), and how intense the affair between Cinderella's Prince and the Baker's Wife really was. Though it does sound like an incredible chunk of the show has been changed and altered though, the story still flows wonderfully and, arguably, is actually more pleasant to enjoy because of these cuts.

Okay, and now onto my opinion: I haven't ever seen a musical film work as well and be as enjoyable as this one. Not only does the story translate so well on screen that I genuinely think it works better as a movie than a stage show, but the all-star cast are such perfect choices that every character is incredibly believable. Meryl Streep as the Witch was obviously absolutely incredible, and though some of her songs were ultimately cut, she was sublime nonetheless. James Corden as The Baker was also an incredible casting choice and in my eyes, this is the best thing I have ever seen him do out of the many things he has been a part of. My three favourite characters though (Cinderella, The Baker's Wife and Little Red Riding Hood) were played by Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt and Lilla Crawford respectively and never have I seen such perfect casting: they have finally identified how young these characters really should be I think! Anna Kendrick's Cinderella is both exciting and charming, and Emily Blunt's Baker's Wife is both adorable and incredibly lovable. In my eyes though, Lilla Crawford's Little Red Riding Hood was especially special: I knew that she was incredibly mature and talented from what I've seen of her performance as Annie in the recent Broadway revival, but I don't think I've ever quite seen a child actor perform so well and fit into an adult cast as well as she did. Absolutely incredible.

The film was so good that I cried three times (during "Stay With Me", the Baker's Wife's part in "Children Will Listen"... and when Little Red Riding Hood skips into the woods during the Prologue singing the main theme). This film is something else, and if I say it's one of the best musical movies of all time, then I really do think it is worth a look for anyone no matter how much they like musicals or not; an incredible film that genuinely left me slightly speechless. All I want to do now is go back and tell my younger self about how bloody amazing the movie ended up being... I wish.

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