Into the Woods (2014)


If Into the Woods should win any award, it should be for being one of the most misleading movies of the year. For those who haven’t seen the original play version, which probably makes up for quite a large portion of regular movie-goers, they see a preview for a movie made up of some popular Grimm fairy tale characters with Disney’s name branded on it, and most likely thought that they were walking in to a child-friendly mash up of fairy tale stories that have their regular “happily ever after” endings. What they got instead was a full blown musical (yes, there are a lot of people who didn’t know this was a sing-every-word kind of musical), very adult-oriented themes, and an ending that is just a bit more grim than was expected.

Having not seen the play version by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, I have to admit that I was surprised at the twist this movie took towards the second half. I can tell I wasn’t the only one, because my theater seemed to be packed with confused people whispering, “What is going on?” There were also two people behind me who must’ve been unaware of this being a musical, because at one point, when Meryl Streep’s witch character was about to break out into another one of her many songs, they said, “Oh here we go again…” Some of the children in the theater were restless as well, fidgeting in their seats and falling asleep after maybe an hour in.


So did this meet a lot of people’s expectations? From what I’ve observed, no. Although I can’t speak for those who already knew what they were in for, but after having researched the details of the play after seeing this, it seems this adaptation has left out a lot of the more important messages that could’ve been gained from the story, especially in the last half. It might’ve given what seemed an unnecessary twist a little more meaning, and might’ve avoided making a two-hour movie seem so long and drawn out towards the end. Before I get into that, though, let me give a little summary.

The Baker (James Cordon) and his wife (Emily Blunt) are trying to have a child, but can’t because of a curse put on the Baker’s family by the Witch (Meryl Streep). She offers them a deal, however, that if they can get her a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold in three days time, then she will be able to reverse the spell. They venture off into the woods and cross paths with characters like Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), who was sent by his mom (Tracy Ullman) to sell his white cow and is traded magic beans for it, Little Red (Lilla Crawford), is rescued from the Wolf (Johnny Depp) by the Baker and gives her cape as reward. The Baker’s wife meets Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), who is running away from the festival in her golden dress and shoes and while the Prince (Chris Pine) chases her. The wife also hears of a woman with hair as yellow as corn at the top of a tower, belonging to Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), who was stolen away as a baby from the Baker’s father by the Witch and placed there to live out her life. Things take a turn for the worse towards the end when a giant from one of the magic beanstalks comes down and wreaks havoc on the woods.


It is quite a nice mash up of characters, actually. I like the way the stories interweave. The first hour and a half or so is an intriguing tale about how these characters all want something, and coincidentally, their journeys lead them all into the woods to find it. They have some interesting and humorous encounters with each other on the way. Once we get to Cinderella’s wedding, however, things take a quick turn from almost happily ever after to disastrous and sad.

While I don’t have a problem with realistic endings as opposed to fairy tale endings, I don’t feel like this particular twist translated well to the screen, and here’s why. Upon reading about the original source material, it seems this movie left out a lot of the longing these characters still feel after their happily ever afters. In the play, things don’t take a turn until a year after Cinderella’s wedding, when their new lives have a chance to set in. Jack stole a ton of gold from the giants in the sky after his magic beans grew into a stalk leading him into a world he never knew existed, and he ends up missing it long after he cuts it down. The Baker and his wife now have a child, but they wish for a bigger house. Cinderella is a princess living in a palace, but she’s bored when she has no work to do. Cinderella’s prince, as well as Rapunzel’s are bored with their marriages and now lust after two women asleep in the woods–Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.


A lot of these things aren’t shown in the second act of the movie. It seems too abrupt. All of a sudden, there’s a giant coming to destroy everything. All of a sudden, Cinderella seems restless, and seemingly out of nowhere the Prince starts hitting on the Baker’s wife, and she embraces it! I mean, it was all random events thrown in together into a mixed pot of “whaaaat?!” I like the idea from the play, it shows these fairy tale characters in a different and more realistic light. It shows how people are always wishing for something else, even if they get everything they want, there’s always something more they can strive for. Nothing is ever perfect, there’s no happily ever after, people make mistakes, people die, and people get restless with their lives. I like that twist in the story, I just didn’t think the movie was effective in its portrayal.

On the surface, Into the Woods has everything it needs to be successful–award-winning source material, talented actors, great songs (although not that catchy, in my opinion), and Rob Marshall, the director of the best picture-winning Chicago, but it seemed misguided towards the end. If it was an original story, I would’ve said they should’ve cut it off at the happy ending, because everything after that was a diluted mess. My cousin even turned to me with twenty minutes left and said, “How long is this movie?” I was just about to check the clock at that point, because I knew it was only two hours but it was starting to feel like three.


Overall, I found this to be mostly enjoyable in the beginning, but borderline unbearable towards the end. This is also not exactly the kid-friendly movie it appears to be. Along with death and infidelity, Johnny Depp’s Wolf character seems more like a creepy child rapist than a hungry wolf, and the rest of the characters moral compasses don’t exactly point north. They get off on doing stupid things and blaming each other for it, even the Witch becomes fed up with them towards the end and disappears. I love musicals, but I felt more positively towards those like Les Misérables than I did towards this surreal fairy tale.



15 thoughts on “Into the Woods (2014)

  1. I think to review this work fairly, you have to understand the body of work of Stephen Sondheim, the main creative behind it. The show only existed because Sondheim hired a playwright. He and James Lapine worked out the concept – one act at night where it all works out in traditional “happily ever after” fashion, followed by a starker, more honest look at things in the light of day (Act 2).

    Your reaction was pretty much what happened with the Broadway audiences. Lots of them didn’t LIKE having their fairy tale view of the world debunked, and walked out on the second act. But that’s Sondheim. His intent is to satisfy what HE wants to say, and to challenge audience preconceptions about life, using art.

    “Witches can be right.
    Giants can be good.
    You decide what’s right.
    You decide what’s good.”

    The problem with the play is that it took over THREE HOURS, and that’s a deal breaker for most movies. Plus, it’s Disney’s money. They tried to make this movie with other studios for over 20 years. Sondheim and Lapine agreed to a lot of cuts and changes (as Sondheim had done before with Sweeney Todd) in order to finally get it on screen. Now, many times more people will see this version than ever saw the play, and for those who insist on a “director’s cut”, the play still exists and is performed in its original form.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah the thing is that I do actually like (from what I’ve read) about the second act of the play. The second act of the movie, probably due to all of the cuts like you said, didn’t seem to translate so well, in my opinion. Of course, having not seen the actual play I don’t have anything concrete to compare it to. I can tell that people in my theater were very confused when everything started going downhill so quickly in the last half, but unfortunately, a 3-hour long movie most likely wouldn’t have sit well with people either. I have no problem with challenging fairy tale views of the world, but the way it was presented in the movie specifically came off as strange and out of left field really, but that’s just me.


  2. LOL!!! omg I saw this movie because my girlfriend offered to pay for it….and I swear to god I have never seen such a boring-er movie in my life…Like I was going to die…haha


  3. Great review!

    I saw the live version of Into The Woods many years ago. I loved the first half and wanted to walk out during the second, but was stuck since my date (now my husband) paid for our tickets. Found out later he’d wanted to leave, too! We made a pact then and there to always honor our agreement & have left a handful of really bad movies/plays mid-stream since. I might see the movie version of Into the Woods when I can stream it, just to appreciate the make-up, special effects, etc. My finger will be on the fast-forward button, though!


    • That’s interesting, as one of the other commenters just said that many people who had seen the play on Broadway liked the first half but walked out on the second. Was it too grim or too boring? I didn’t think the movie was boring, just weird towards the end. I wonder if you’d think differently though having seen the original story played out. The actors are fun to watch at least! 🙂


  4. You aren’t the first person I have read that didn’t care much for this. I ended up skipping it. Despite my love for Emily Blunt, something about this film never clicked with me. I just can’t get excited for it.


  5. I won’t take the Invisible Mikey approach of quoting from the text – I’m familiar but not extremely well-versed in the musical – but I’ll just add my two cents by saying that Sondheim is all about thwarting expectations and pre-conceived notions. (Heck, that’s the entire second act!) “Into the Woods,” strangely enough, kind of represents the first and second viewings of a film. (Hear me out.) The first act is like the first viewing in that you’re reacting to your expectations, not as much the content or story itself. Then the second act comes and undermines it, just as the second viewing of a film allows you to judge it on its own merits.

    I would encourage you further down the line to revisit this film. It seems that, for better or for worse, you may have been reacting to some of the Disney false advertising that was necessary to draw in bodies over Christmas. (They, like most studios, care most that you buy a ticket, not how you feel after you buy it.) Give it some time to breathe and go back with fresh eyes and an open mind. I think you may be surprised – potentially, maybe you’ll even see what so many (like myself) saw in the enchanting stage show.


    • I was definitely reacting to the false advertising. I knew nothing about it going in, but expected it was going to be just another live-action fairy tale for the kids, except in musical format. It wasn’t until afterwards when I read some things about Sondheim and the play that I was able to understand why the story went in the direction it did.

      Actually, I like the idea of comparing the two acts to the first and second viewings of a film. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it makes sense.

      But on that note, I probably will watch this again when it comes out on video, as I often do with movies I am kind of on the fence about (didn’t hate, but didn’t love). Maybe I’ll be able to understand more what you and Invisible Mikey are saying.

      Liked by 1 person

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