Movie Review: Into the Woods

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Into the Woods 1Reel Rating: 4 out of 5 Reels
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material
Released in Theaters: Dec. 25, 2014
Best for Ages: 11+
Genre: Musical, Fairytale
Runtime: 124 minutes
Directed by: Rob Marshall
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Cast: Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Emily Blunt
Official Site: Into the Woods

SYNOPSIS: A witch tasks a childless baker and his wife with gathering magical items from classic fairytales to reverse the curse put on their family tree.

REVIEW: Based on Stephen Sondheim’s beloved Broadway musical, “Into the Woods” weaves together several classic fairytales into a new story. It takes place in a magical kingdom where a kindly baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) are fretting over the fact that they can’t have children.

So they strike a deal with a terrifying witch (Meryl Streep), who dispatches them “into the woods” to find a assorted objects — a red cape, golden hair, a milky-white cow, etc. — that will help them break their childless curse.

Meanwhile, Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) wants desperately to attend a ball hosted by Prince Charming (Chris Pine), and a familiar young girl in a red cape (Lilla Crawford) is on her way to her grandmother’s house when she encounters a Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Depp).

Bringing the beanstalk tale into the story, young Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) is forced to sell his cow, but ends up trading it for magic beans, which ultimately leads to big problems for the whole kingdom. All the characters eventually converge as they head into the woods to carry out their missions.

“Into the Woods” is rated PG, but it’s really not for little kids. While the production, woodland settings, and compelling songs are absolutely gorgeous, the story might be somewhat dense and confusing for kids (and quite frankly, for me, too). Maybe it’s because most people are familiar with the individual fairytales, and when you put them all together into one movie, it’s a little overwhelming.

I happened to mention this to a friend who’s seen the stage production, and she said the story is dense there, too. That made me feel a little better because I was afraid of casting a dark shadow over a beloved production.

I’m not familiar with the stage version, but I know it’s special because any time it comes up in conversation among local friends who did the musical at our community theater here in Traverse City, they speak of it in hushed tones. I’d like to see the stage version at some point.

But look, Emily Blunt has a beautiful voice, Meryl Streep is dramatically bewitching as the witch, and Chris Pine is adorably comic as he sings a hilarious song called “Agony” with fellow prince Billy Magnussen, who plays Rapunzel’s prince. After seeing the handsome Chris Pine make fun of himself in “Horrible Bosses 2,” it’s clear that he doesn’t take his good looks too seriously. That will probably go a long way in the entertainment industry.

While “Into the Woods” isn’t a typical happy-ending fairytale, there’s still plenty of life lessons for kids, including valuing teamwork, making good choices, being brave, taking chances, and staying open to unexpected forms of family. In my view, there actually IS a happy ending to this melancholic tale, even if the movie goes 20 minutes past when I thought and hoped it might end.

THE DETAILS (May Contain Spoilers):

Sex/Nudity: Some flirting and kissing. A few suggestive song lyrics. It’s implied that two characters have a tryst in the woods, although both are married to other people. Cinderella’s stepsisters wear low-cut, tight-fitting outfits.

Violence/Gore: Central characters die. Others mourn their loss and children are left without parents. There’s a sense of peril throughout the movie. A wolf stalks a young girl and eventually eats her, but a man cuts the wolf open and frees the girl. People try to slay a giant after it ravages a kingdom, causing trees to fall and general chaos. The witch is somewhat terrifying with lots of smoke and drama in her comings and goings. Jack is in peril several times, and his mom hits him on the head to knock some sense into him. A beloved pet dies, but is later resurrected. A baby is in peril, as his dad abandons him, feeling he won’t make a good father. Cinderella’s stepsisters and stepmother are cruel to her, and the stepmother mutilates her daughters in an attempt to match them up with the prince.

Profanity: One “oh my God.”

Drugs/Alcohol: None.

Which Kids Will Like It? Kids 11 and older who like musicals.

Will Grownups Like It? “Into the Woods” is an excellent film, but might have more meaning for those who are familiar with the songs and stage version.

One Reel – Even the Force can’t save it.
Two Reels – Coulda been a contender
Three Reels – Something to talk about.
Four Reels – You want the truth? Great flick!
Five Reels – Wow! The stuff dreams are made of.

Images in this review used courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.


3 responses to “Movie Review: Into the Woods”

  1. […] Even though I thought the “Into the Woods” storyline was a bit long and dense, I still LOVED the music in this star-studded film directed by Rob Marshall and starring Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt and Anna Kendrick, to name a few. Check out my review here. […]

  2. Avatar

    I avoided reading any reviews before seeing this film, so I’d have no expectations or prejudices. And in the opening moments, I thought I’d been rewarded. This was clearly nothing typical from Hollywood. The characters in period dress, singing their dialog, and the surprise of seeing Tracey Uhlman! I was delighted to see her attached to this project. It bode well! The camera focused on the actors, and not the CGI. Since I knew nothing of the story, I wondered if it would be another LES MISERABLES. But as it unfolded, the “sing-song” lyrics that I hoped would evolve into grand musical numbers got a bit tiresome, and a slow leak began to hiss from my enthusiasm. It needed more…something. OK, so we’ve been introduced to childhood fairy tale themes, and maybe they’re going to weave them together somehow. Well they attempted to, but not in an imaginative way. Merle Streep as the witch. I thought there might have been a dash of Margaret Hamilton in her initial appearance, but no…Streep was taking it elsewhere. The first glimmer of genuine music came with Johnny Depp as The Big Bad Wolf. Cheesy makeup, but I can overlook that, the scene still works. I thought Chris Pine as the Prince was the stand-out performance. My guess is that this characterization is what the screenwriters had in mind for the entire project…funny, hammy, over the top, but enjoyable. And consistent. But the other characters, with their occasional surprisingly bad dialog, never attained it. Streep’s performance became irritating. The other characters bounced between light comedy and out-of-place drama. I gave up any hope of this being an actual musical, and over half-way through, the sing-songy dialog ceased all together, for no apparent reason. It was like the assistant director took over while the big guy went to lunch. Eventually, we the audience stumbled out of a forest of confusion, and see what looks like the end of the story. I resisted looking at my watch the whole time, and thought, well that wasn’t bad, but…wrong. The story plunged back into an irritating forest of heavy-handed seriousness, with thorns of what again attempted to be musical dialog. I had had enough. This could have been spin on the PRINCESS BRIDE, but it got LOST (somewhere) IN TRANSLATION. On the plus side, I was impressed that this thing got the green light from an industry that loves formulaic stories that at least promise to get production costs back. I hope they will with this one. Thirty minutes too long, and btw…Stephen Sondheim? Really?

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      Great comments! I had the exact same reaction after stumbling out of “the forest of confusion” (love that phrase) and then, what?! There’s still more?! I also felt that slow hiss leaking from my enthusiasm somewhere into the film. But good for Hollywood for trying something (mostly) different.

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