‘Cause nothing bad ever happens in the woods.
Many stories are presented here, with almost nearly every one converging in some way, shape, or form, in the deep, dark, hellish woods everybody seems to be travelling into and out of. It all starts when a Baker and his wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt) are told by a witch (Meryl Streep) that if they want to have a baby, they have to give her the exact ingredients she needs to make a potion that will have her to go back to her youth. The Baker and his wife are more than willing to face this task at-hand here and meet many other characters along the way. Like, for instance, Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) who constantly seems to be leading on Prince Charming (Chris Pine), without any promises of actually getting together and/or married. Also, Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) meets up with a little boy named Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) who both codger up something of a friendship, although the big, bad wolf (Johnny Depp) is constantly lurking somewhere in the background. Each story wants to have a good ending, but to ensure a good ending, what must have to be done?
There’s been plenty of talk surrounding Into the Woods and none of it, I feel, is really needed. Sure, if you have already seen the original Stephen Sondheim musical on Broadway or anywhere else, then yeah, you might be a little disappointed that they took some things out, or slightly alluded to others, only to make sure that they’d get a PG-rating that’s bigger and better for the family-friendly audience. Purely from a business standpoint, this is a smart move, but it also brings into question: How much can the original source material of a product be tampered with, to still allow for its original identity to stay relatively put?
Well, my friends, that’s a question I don’t feel the need to answer because, quite frankly, I have never seen the play before. Therefore, it’s a bit difficult for me to make my mind up about what the right, as well as the wrong decisions were made in making sure that Into the Woods not only stays true to its original, core audience, but also is friendly enough so that the whole family can come out to the movies to see, have fun with, and not have to worry about discussing the birds or the bees on the ride home. What I will make up my mind in is saying that Into the Woods, while not perfect, is still a fun musical that should be seen by any and all members of the family.
There, that’s it.
Well, not really. Seeing as how there’s more to this movie than just a bunch of fun song and dance numbers, I think it’s important to note that most of what this movie does is interesting. The idea of taking all of these different fairy-tale stories and throwing them into this world where both realism and fantasy mix together, definitely brings a lot of intriguing, yet compelling elements of story-telling together. For one, you have the tales as old as time that have hardly even been picked apart, but then, on the other note, you have a human heart with a cynical mind, that likes to think that these stories are made so that simply kids can either be very happy to hear, or go to bed. Either way, it’s the kids that are hearing the stories the most and taking them all in, which is why it’s so funny that most of Into the Woods seems to be channeled more towards the adults in the audience, much rather than the other way around.
That’s not to say that most of the movie can’t be enjoyed by the little tikes who decide to go out and see this; as mentioned before, the song and dance numbers are fun, light, and sometimes, incredibly catchy that it might just have them humming it on the way out of the theater, and probably for some time afterwards. But most of Into the Woods seems like, when you look beneath the surface, is a hard-hitting, sometimes dark tale about the choices we all make in our lives and how, while they may seem for the better at the present time that they are made, don’t always turn out so well when thought-about more in the future time to come. The movie also goes on to show all of these characters in both positive, as well as negative lights. Though it seems and sounds like it’s all too much for the little kiddies at home, I can assure you that director Rob Marshall does a solid enough job here that he doesn’t allow for too much of it to go over their heads.
It’s just that more of it goes right directly into the heads of their parents.
For instance, take the character of the Baker’s wife, who is played so well by the always lovely Emily Blunt. While she’s a meek and well-mannered lady, she’s still one that clearly wants to be more than just a mother. She wants to be a lover, and a person who feels needed and desired by those she doesn’t often get such affections from. Without saying too much, she gets what she wants from a certain source and it helps give her character much happiness, for the time being. Once that time is up and she’s had it with all of the cheering, she soon realizes that the choice she’s made may have not been the best for her, or for her husband in the long-run. While she may have thought of it as a smart decision on her part that would bring her much happiness and joy, she soon comes to the conclusion that it wasn’t the smartest move on her part and as a result, without giving too much away again, has to face the consequences.
Blunt’s character isn’t the only one who has to suffer the consequences of her sometimes naughty decisions. Anna Kendrick’s Cinderella character knows that she shouldn’t be playing with a person’s heart, but when the power is in her control, she can’t help but do so; Daniel Huttlestone’s Jack wants to be with his best-friend once again and is willing to do whatever he can to make sure of that, but by doing so, may also put those around him at-risk and in total danger; and Meryl Streep’s witch, while seeming like she’s doing a nice thing for a couple who clearly needs her help, is also very selfish in that what she wants to do for herself is to only make herself happy, and nobody else but. The list of good and bad decisions made by these characters go on and on, but all feel honest and well-written, without ever being hammered onto us, the audience, in any way.
Sure, the darkness of the later-part of this movie definitely comes as a bit of a shock once the gears switch themselves around and we realize that there’s going to be some hearts broken here, but it works. Whether you expect it or not, it all feels well-intentioned and as if it wants to inform each and every kid who decides to see this that there are consequences for the choices you make in life, so definitely choose wisely. And also, definitely make sure to do the right thing.
But, like I said before, the movie doesn’t shove this down our throats too much, as it is, as expected, still a fun musical with a more than capable of singing cast.
What I said about Blunt, can definitely be said about Corden who has a bit of a dilemma in his own right that he wants to be a good daddy, but because he didn’t have one, he doesn’t know how to be; Streep’s witch character, while nasty and mean, is sometimes charming in her own evil-way that it’s nice to finally see Streep having fun, without trying to be too emotional either; Chris Pine hams it up so perfectly as Prince Charming, the character every little girl loves and every little boy loved to hate, and for the exact reasons as presented here in a perfect, self-deprecating manner; Anna Kendrick is sweet and pretty as Cinderella, but still does a nice job at reminding us that her character can be a little too quick to push the button with every choice that comes her way; and Johnny Depp, for as little screen-time as he has, is strange, off-kilter, and overall, a delight to watch. He’s not in it for too long, but is at least around enough to be funny, enjoyable, and a little creepy, like we always expect from Depp.
Except that, this time, he’s not with Tim Burton! Yay! Everybody’s a winner!
Consensus: With a bunch of fun, exciting, and well-performed song and dance numbers, Into the Woods presents an actual musical that can be enjoyed by the whole family, yet, still doesn’t shy away from getting down to the nitty, gritty moral decisions of its characters and the lessons that they teach.
8 / 10 = Matinee!!