Movie Review: Into the Woods

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A baker and his wife, cursed with infertility by a witch years previously, must now lift the curse by providing the witch with a list of items they need to procure from famous fairy tale characters in the nearby woods.

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Rob Marshall, 2014

In a fairy tale village there lives a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) who live next to a witch (Meryl Streep). The baker’s father was cursed by the witch years ago after he stole some beans from her garden; now nobody in the baker’s house can ever have children. She agrees to lift the curse if the baker and his wife bring her four objects: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold. Meanwhile, in the same village, Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) lives with her evil stepmother and sisters and dreams of going to the festival at the castle; Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and his mother (Tracey Ullman) are starving, and Jack’s mother sends him to sell his best friend, Milky White the cow, at market; and a little girl in a red cape (Lilla Crawford) comes to the bakery to get some bread to take to her grandmother’s house in the woods. The baker heads into the woods to find the items the witch requires, followed by his wife, unbeknownst to him. Deep in the woods, Little Red Riding Hood meets a wolf (Johnny Depp) who leads her astray, and the baker has to save her; meanwhile, his wife finds Rapunzel (Mackenzie Maury) in a tower, letting a prince climb up her long yellow hair. The baker buys Milky White from Jack using the witch’s magic beans, which grow a beanstalk that Jack climbs up to steal from the giants in the sky, while the baker’s wife bumps into Cinderella, running from the festival and Prince Charming (Chris Pine) in golden shoes gifted to her by her dead mother who is now a tree. It seems like things are going well for the baker and his wife until Jack’s beanstalk throws an unexpected twist their way.

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Hoo, boy. So Into the Woods is a movie you really need to go into with a decent amount of contextual information. Firstly, it is so not for kids, no matter how hard Disney has tried to de-fang it for kids. It’s is based on a Stephen Sondheim musical that was written in the 80s as an allegory for a sheltered couple living in the Bronx. The stage musical explores the darker side to some of the fairytales, and notably features two sexual awakening songs about its younger characters, Red Riding Hood and Jack, who are played by adults on stage. Both songs feature in the movie, as does the wolf’s song where he seduces Little Red. Both kids are impressive in their parts, particularly the spunky Lilla Crawford (who has a powerful voice and a powerful scream), but it still all comes off very icky. The film is also really violent – there’s no actual violence on-screen, but it features three blindings, four deaths, and the whole foot mutilation thing with Cinderella’s stepsisters. This movie is dark, metaphorically and literally; the cinematography is gorgeous, making really clever use of light and shade in the woods, but a lot of the events take place at night as well. It’s also reeeeeally sexist. Almost all the women are punished for minor transgressions while the men get off scot-free for doing much worse things.

Into the Woods is a pretty dense story with a strange structure; just when you think everyone’s story is complete is when the third act suddenly starts. It’s also song-heavy, and a lot of the actors haven’t really been cast for their singing voices. In spite of this, everyone puts in good performances, particularly Emily Blunt as the baker’s wife, who is the heart and soul of the movie. James Corden pitches his baker performance perfectly, though he can’t keep up with the singing, particularly opposite the Broadway trained Anna Kendrick. Meryl Streep is fine, but not Oscar worthy. There are only a few humorous moments but most of them land pretty well. A few of the songs are great, too; there’s a lovely, magical number between the baker and his wife called “It Takes Two”, and the two princes absolutely nail the hilarious “Agony”. There’s a song about laying blame that really gets to the meat of the film, which represents the best part of the movie: exploration of the nature of humanity and our interconnectedness even when we make mistakes. Which you’d think would be represented in the characters’ journeys. It’s a shame that the movie is such a downer, because there are the bones of a good movie here, but it doesn’t quite pay off.

Into the Woods on IMDb

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