Into the Woods (2014): Yes, Yes, No, Yes

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I feel kind of bad about reviewing Into the Woods (2014), because I’m a big ball of “meh” about it. Oh, there were some great aspects to it, but those were dragged down by others. However, I’m probably the only one of us to actually see current movies while they’re current, so I thought I should post about it. My review can be summed up as: yes, yes, no, yes.

The Story: Yes

The story is cute! Yes yes, let’s mash up all the fairy tales AND explore their darker sides. I am so totally on board with this. My second favorite fiction genre is fantasy, and I love books that are twisted or fleshed out versions of fairy tales. At least in the West, we’re raised on fairytales. To this day, my copy of Tasha Tudor’s Book of Fairy Tales remains on my bookshelf, as a reminder of the many hours my mother spent reading those to me.

Tasha Tudor

This doesn’t just apply to books, though. I also generally or quite liked Ever After, Ella Enchanted, Maleficent, Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman, and most of the Disney movies.

So yes, I liked very much that Into the Woods was all about the fairy tale mash-up AND the darker side of fairy tales. I mean, who doesn’t love things from the original Grimm’s tales, like Sleepy Beauty waking up pregnant with twins, or the ugly step-sisters cutting off toes to fit into the glass slipper?

The Acting: Yes

The performances were very good! Meryl Streep as the Witch, Anna Kendrick as Cinderella, James Corden as the Baker, and Emily Blunt as the Baker’s Wife were all particular standouts. Chris Pine was also entertainingly cheeseball as one of the Princes. I found the characters of Little Red Riding Hood and Jack annoying, but I’m guessing that’s probably the character, not the acting. I did think Johnny Depp was kind of cheeseball as the Wolf, but his part was surprisingly (and thankfully) minimal.

Into the Woods (2014) costume movie review

The Music: No

Here’s where we get to it: THE MUSIC SUCKED.

Now, I quite like musical theater. In fact, when I was in high school, I just may have been a total Les Miserables geek. As in, I’ve seen the stage version at least 4 times. I have sung along to the soundtrack probably 100,000,000,000,000,000 times — I could still sing you every note/word if you asked me (don’t ask me). I have seen all of the modern film versions. I also have voluntarily enjoyed many other musicals, including Evita, A Chorus Line, Mamma Mia!, Wicked, Grease, Annie, Mary Poppins, Dreamgirls, The Sound of Music, The King and I, Godspell, and Anything Goes. (Full confession, I think The Phantom of the Opera is crap, and I don’t get the appeal of Rent).

So I have ABSOLUTELY NO PROBLEM with people randomly bursting into song, or singing their dialogue, or pausing the story to sing a song about their motivation or some flowers. I’m down. (Unless a chandelier is going to fall into the audience while mealy girls sing).

Oh, and I should say that I’ve never seen Into the Woods before this film version.

But this music? IT WAS INTERMINABLE. IT WAS THE SAME SONG, OVER AND OVER OVER. AND OVER. AND OVER. I almost stuck a fork in my ear when the credits came up and we were treated to “INTO THE WOODS INTO THE WOODS” ONE MORE TIME.

I can’t say much more. The singing was passable on the part of the performers. But apparently Sondheim had run out of ideas for melodies, because I REALLY felt like it was one interminable song that never resolved, never crescendoed, never finished, NEVER EVER EVER.

Okay. I have to stop thinking about this music now.

The Costumes: Yes

So here’s the good news. Colleen Atwood’s costumes were STUNNING, and here is your proof that I’m fine with taking historical costume and having fun with it: I LOVE that she twisted and mashed up eras and sometimes went with pretty and sometimes went with crazy! I have NO problem with this when it’s either A) appropriate or B) done well with commitment. Luckily, here we have both, plus Atwood’s incredibly talented skills. Furthermore, given that the film is all about twisting and mashing-up fairy tales, it made perfect sense that Atwood twisted and mashed-up historical eras.

Into the Woods (2014) costume movie review

Johnny Depp as the Wolf. His outfit was a very 1940s zoot suit, I think to show just how slick he was.

Into the Woods (2014) costume movie review

Meryl Streep as the Witch. Very appropriately witchy.

Later on, the spell making the Witch old and ugly is lifted, and she gets to go super glam. Love the 1890s look with the sleeves, and the blue hair!

Into the Woods (2014) costume movie review

Emily Blunt as the Baker’s Wife, and James Corden as the Baker.

Into the Woods (2014) costume movie review

Anna Kendrick as Cinderella. I loved her very 18th century stays.

Into the Woods (2014) costume movie review

When Cinderella gets gussied up, she’s still in an 18th century corset shape. Not only do I like the green, but I love the layered fabrics, the gold, and the metallics. A nice tweak on the usual Cinderella look.

Rapunzel with her VERY long hair. I liked that instead of every hair being the exact same length, there were bits and pieces poking out of the braid… which is what happens when you braid your own hair!

Rapunzel’s dress had specific “bondage” elements, which is pretty funny, given her status as locked up in a tower. It’s also pretty!

Into the Woods (2014) costume movie review

Chris Pine as one of the princes. Very nice, classic faux-medieval outfit. Love the perfect coif and the stubble.

Into the Woods (2014) costume movie review

And finally, The Best costumes — on Cinderella’s evil step-mother and step-sisters. SO MUCH TO LOVE HERE. Note the 18th century stays (corset) shapes.

Into the Woods (2014) costume movie review

First of all, the hair! Love that they all have the blond theme, but different styles. The step-sister on the left has pretty much the craziest, most fabulous hair. They also keep to this gold and black color scheme, which keeps them harmonized while each outfit is totally individualized.

Into the Woods (2014) costume movie review

Step-monster all dressed up for the ball. That gold and black trim/lace is stunning!

Into the Woods (2014) costume movie review

Crazy, 18th century/goth ball gowns. LOVE. Also love the tried and true “sunglasses and cane” thing.

Into the Woods (2014) costume movie review

Another shot of fabulous step-relations. Note how they totally outshine Cinderella’s wedding dress.

If you’re interested in the costumes, we’ve been posting a ton of news articles to our Facebook page. Here’s a roundup:

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

12 Responses

  1. Katy

    (Copied and pasted from Facebook because I will defend Sondheim on ALL the websites!)

    I will be posting an article about the costumes on Clothes On Film soon so please add that to your list when it goes up! I’m also writing an article for The Sondheim Review which I believe will come out in June.

    I completely disagree about the music! If you want the same song over and over go to Les Mis. Sondheim’s work for Into the Woods is gorgeous, combining traditional aspects of musical theater (big opening and closing numbers, reprises, etc) and putting his own twist on them. He takes different musical themes and develops them as the story and characters evolve. The show is as much about a musical journey as a plot journey. Same for the lyrics, which cleverly twist and turn. His genius is especially evident when there’s a reprise and you can see how the language has subtly shifted to echo plot/character development. The music and lyrics are so layered and complex, and on the surface you may not see it but really studying this show shows Sondheim’s typical genius.

    Reply
  2. Kendra

    BUT I LOVE LES MIS! Or, at least my 17-year-old self does. I’m sure if I had seen Into the Woods on stage first, especially with the fabulous Bernadette Peters, my opinion would be different.

    Reply
    • Katy

      To be fair I do enjoy Les Mis as much as the next girl, but it’s certainly no Sondheim. The original cast also features the incomparable Joanna Gleason as the Baker’s Wife! And a large wolf peen. I remember watching the video with my parents when I was really little and feeling rather awkward.

      Into the Woods is kind of in my blood because my mom photographed the original production. In fact I wouldn’t be here without Sondheim because my parents’ first date was to see Sunday in the Park with George. I came full circle last winter when I was in a concert production of Sunday in the Park, my mom says that both her and my dad cried.

      Reply
  3. Holly

    If you haven’t seen it yet, please watch the Bernadette Peters version – many of the songs were cut down (or completely left out) in the movie version, which changes the dynamic entirely and leads to the repetitive monotony. The reprise of the princes’ song alone is worth it, IMO.

    Reply
  4. Loren

    Oh man, can I just watch the evil stepsisters part? I just love their costumes, it’s like fantasy 18th C a la Ab Fab! Once again the bad girls get the best clothes.

    Reply
  5. Melissa

    I was so not thrilled with the music, but I can’t really blame the actors. They did a beautiful job with what they were working with. But what they were working with sucked monkey butt. All of the imperfect rhyme and the dissonance and repetition… agh!!

    Reply
  6. Adina

    I’m super late in this comment,but have you considered taking a look at the 1991 filmed version of the Broadway Show?
    Cinderella and her step family are wearing 1830s style gowns, complete with Apollo Knots for hair.
    I’m not so sure about the other characters, I know Jack and his mother had unfortunate bigginses.

    Reply
  7. Christine

    I don’t think you can say you love musical theatre when you’re not familiar with Sondheim. He can be an acquired taste for some, but ignorance is no excuse. Les Mis is a half-step above Andrew Lloyd Weber in terms of good musical theatre. That is, it’s schmaltzy and pandering.

    Reply

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