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Fantastic fables.

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FAIRY-TALE mash-ups are nothing new, with recent TV series such as Grimm and Once Upon A Time offering a who's who of classic characters coming together and getting involved in each other's stories. However, Into The Woods, an adaption of the Broadway musical of the same name that was first produced in the 1980s, stands out as it challenges our preconceived notions of these folk tales and subverts our expectations. While inherently Disney in execution, it packs a notably mature punch that makes it stand out amongst the usual sickly-sweet offerings from the studio.

Drawing from a variety of Brothers Grimm stories such as Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella amongst others, the story focuses on The Baker (Corden) and his Wife (Blunt). Wishing for a child but unable to produce one after a witch (Streep) placed a curse on the family years ago, they start to lose hope.

However, they meet the witch who offers to lift the curse in exchange for four items: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold. If you compare these items with the stories I mentioned above, you can probably see where this is going!

The story is a particularly strong one, with the writers managing to delicately balance the different plot strands and bring it all together to a satisfying conclusion. Most gratifyingly of all, they preserve the basic morals and foundations of each story, but subtly tweak these tales and breathe enough fresh life into them so that they are interesting.

After all, there would be nothing more boring than seeing the same tales we've been told since we were toddlers re-enacted on screen yet again! Inspiration, not plagiarism, is the basis here and it's a delight for that very reason.

The film's tone is pretty dark (many will argue that the original stage show is for adults only rather than for all ages), although it does show notable areas of restraint, particularly on the romantic side of things, which might upset purist theatre fans.

The Disney-fying is not universal though, with some grizzly scenes and obvious deaths of popular characters that might upset little ones. Take my advice before bringing along your youngest, this film is one of the edgiest that Disney has ever done.

As an adult who still loves many of the Disney classics (mainly for the nostalgia) but sometimes struggles to find charm and originality in the company's newer productions, I appreciate that they are willing to tag their name on a movie like this. It shows that they accept the fact that a vast portion of its audience has outgrown the traditional fare and thus the studio is attempting to cater for those looking for more mature fantasy, but still with that classic Disney twist.

The assembled cast all perform superbly and have enough screen time between them to develop their characters and let their individual personalities shine through. Of particular skill is how some of these characters, traditionally viewed as dashing, perfect heroes, subtly show their flaws and nasty tendencies. Less Prince Charming, more Prince Scoundrel!

With this being a musical in essence, obviously the songs constitute a very important aspect of the film, and here they are sung and performed wonderfully from an acoustic point of view. However, with the added visual effects afforded by the big screen (and an even bigger budget), the grand sense of scale and emotion gets a little overbearing at times.

It seems ridiculous to criticise a Disney film for being unrealistic, but seeing two men about to fight and suddenly decide to break into song gets grating after a while and takes you out of the film to remind you that this is staged after all. Just stab him!

Overall though, Into The Woods is a refreshing tale that will appeal to both children (not too young, remember!) and adults alike, while offering a skewed look at some traditional folk stories.

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Publication:Gulf Weekly
Date:Jan 7, 2015
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