Movie Review

Into the Woods

By Kersley Fitzgerald

Into the Woods is Rob Marshall's new movie-musical based on the stage musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. It stars Anna Kendrick as Cinderella, James Corden as the Baker, Emily Blunt as the Baker's wife, Chris Pine as Prince Charming, Christine Baranski as Cinderella's evil step-mother, Tracey Ullman as Jack's mother, Johnny Depp as the Big Bad Wolf, and Meryl Streep as the witch.

The story covers Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Rapunzel, and uses the original story of a childless Baker and his wife to tie all the others into a semi-cohesive lump. The main stories stay pretty faithful to the darker traditions. The Baker and his wife are told by the witch they must give her a milky white cow, a red cloak, a gold slipper, and hair as gold as corn silk before she will remove the curse that keeps them from having a child. Shenanigans ensue as they track down the very McGuffins needed by the more familiar fairy tale characters. The last maybe quarter of the movie covers what happens to the characters after their dreams come true and they learn it's not always good to get what you wished for.

It's obvious the cast and crew worked very, very hard. We were surprised with how well James Corden, Chris Pine, and Emily Blunt could sing. Dev thought Johnny Depp needed work, but I thought it was fantastic how well he combined singing with being a wolf — very Timothy Burton, but extra disturbing since it was directed at a little girl. The visuals and setting were well done. The acting was fine. You could tell it had been a stage musical (I thought some of the songs went too long, but I'm not cultured and stuf), and the storylines intertwined nicely.

But we didn't like it.


It got pretty dark pretty fast. I totally get why the Baker's wife made out with Cinderella's prince-husband, and I liked how she reacted to it — realizing dreams aren't always what they're cracked up to be. And I realize that her death was essential for the Baker's character arc, but I didn't like it (you should have seen my reaction to Marie getting killed in The Bourne Supremacy). I didn't see why Jack's mother had to die. Cinderella didn't even care about her husband's infidelity. The ending of the witch was just confusing; she got mad so a tar pit ate her? And they didn't even resolve the idea that Rapunzel was the Baker's long-ago-kidnapped sister.

The worst part for me, though, was with the most irritating character. As the Baker, Cinderella, and Jack prepare to take down the giant's wife, the normally selfish Little Red Riding Hood has second thoughts. She's not sure her parents would approve of her trying to murder someone, even if that someone had already destroyed her village. Cinderella offers sympathy and understanding, but then gets super relativistic. As far as I could tell, the point of her song was "We need to decide what's right and wrong based on what our friends think, realizing that the other side is doing the same."

Someone who knows more than me about musicals in general and this one in particular suggests that the main problem is the Baker's father, who was the cause of much of the other characters' grief, was supposed to narrate the story and make amends through subtle actions. That would have helped the storyline, I think, but he was completely taken out of the movie.

The end of Into the Woods feels like a bunch of selfish people and Cinderella barely escape a tornado. It's pretty bad when one of the most sympathetic characters is the giant's wife who threatens to kill everyone — Jack did kill her husband, after all.

There is violence (the Baker slices open the wolf; Cinderella's step-mother really does cut her daughters' feet; various characters go blind), a little skin, an almost no swearing. If you're a fan of theater, you'd probably like it. If you're into more traditional Disney stories, you'd do fine skipping it.

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Published 1-12-2015