* BE WARNED: THERE ARE SPOILERS CONTAINED IN THIS REVIEW *
I watched this movie the other night completely unaware that it was a musical. I’m not typically a fan of musicals, and Broadway really isn’t something that interest me all that much (there are some that I enjoy). All I knew was that this was a mixing of Brother Grimm’s fairy tale characters into an original story. I watched it for three reasons: 1.) I like Once Upon A Time and what it has done for mixing fairy tales, 2.) I was bored and the poster looked interesting enough, and 3.) There was an attractive chick on the poster who I didn’t know (Anna Kendrick). Yes, that’s how I decide whether or not I want to watch a movie I am unfamiliar with.
Into the Woods begins with singing, and it was right at the beginning I thought “oh no.” This opening number, with small breaks in between the singing, goes on for about 15 minutes. By the time it was over, “into the woods” had been said/sung about a hundred times. To be honest, I was about ready to close it out (was watching it online). But I stuck with it, and at the end of this two hour film I was glad I did. I ended up thoroughly enjoying it, which I guess isn’t completely surprising since I did like the film adaptation of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd.
The story is a fairly straight forward fairy tale. A witch (Meryl Streep) has placed a curse on a Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) that prevents them from having a child because the baker’s dad stole magical beans from the witch that in turn made her ugly. On the blue moon, the witch can have her beauty restored if she drinks a potion in the form of milk, and she’ll lift the curse on the baker and his wife if they acquire the four items she needs: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper pure as gold. If you’re wondering why the witch doesn’t get them herself, she is unable to touch the items.
So they set out into the woods to gather these items, at just the same time a host of other individuals are entering the woods to fulfill their own wishes. Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) is on his way to another village to sell his milk-less white cow. Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) is on her way to her grandmother’s house. And Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) is in the woods to first visit her mother’s grave and then run from the Prince (Chris Pine). So, Jack has the cow, which he sells to the baker for five magical beans, and of course those beans grow into a stalk leading to the giants in the sky. Little Red Riding Hood has the cape the husband and wife duo need, and Cinderella has the golden slipper. Meanwhile, the sister the baker didn’t know he had is being held by the witch in a tower, and of course she has the hair as yellow as corn and she is known as Rapunzel. By the time the blue moon appears, the items have been acquired and everyone gets their happy ending.
It’s here if you didn’t know the runtime you would assume the movie was ending, but instead the second half begins and takes a decidedly darker turn. BIG SPOILERS BELOW!
An angry giant brings death and destruction, and the happy endings come to an end. The giant crashes the wedding of Cinderella and the Prince, with what they think at the time is just an earthquake. This sends our core group back out into the woods, which have changed.
Little Red’s home is destroyed, and now she can’t find granny. The giant is looking for revenge on Jack for killing her husband and stealing their gold items (seriously, how can you not feel bad for the giants?). The prince and the baker’s wife commit some adultery, and then next thing you know the baker’s wife is dead. Cinderella’s birds tell her what the prince did, and she subsequently leaves him (the prince has the great line, “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.”). The witch has an epic meltdown which sees her turn into a tar pit. Jack’s mom also dies. In the end, we’re left with the baker, with his newborn son, agreeing to take in the now orphaned Red and Jack while Cinderella agrees to also come live with them.
In the end, they all got what they wished for, but not in the form they had figured and not without some death and destruction. Hence the tagline, “be careful what you wish for.”
Johnny Depp also had what amounted to a cameo in the first half of the film as Mr. Wolf, the sexual predator and pedophile, and of course he did a great job with his very limited role.
As a musical, it was enjoyable and everyone with was able to hold their own with the singing. Of the entire cast, I thought the young Lilla Crawford was the most impressive and has the best voice. It’s a bit of a shame she actually didn’t get to sing more, but it is what it is. After her, Anna Kendrick had some great numbers as well. The whole cast did well though, and the songs were good. I suppose my favorite bit was a one-two punch towards the end with a number that sees the Baker, Jack, Red, Cinderella, and the Witch arguing over whose fault it is, and then the Witch’s final number right before her send off.
I’d recommend seeing this if you enjoy musicals, but of course with the caveat that it is a Disney movie (and well Disney is certainly far from wholesome). I enjoyed it a lot.
Into the Woods gets a four out of five: GREAT.