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.