Into the Woods is an adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical. It is a retelling of several fairy tales – Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella and Rapunzel feature. The characters within cross paths when they all go “into the woods”. Alongside the familiar fairy tales, there is also a storyline that revolves around a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt), who cannot conceive a child. As the film begins we see them in their shop. Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) enters and takes half of their produce without paying. After she leaves, the witch who lives next door to the bakery (Meryl Streep) appears. She announces that she has put a curse on the baker so that he and his wife cannot conceive. Before this point, I was unaware that they even wanted to conceive, but suddenly the baker’s wife is crying. The witch starts ranting about how she used to be beautiful. Indeed, Meryl Streep has been dressed in a strange costume so that she has mangy blue hair and crooked teeth. She also has a lot of purple eye shadow around her eyes, giving her some unflattering bags.
She promises that she will lift the curse if they bring her four things: hair the colour of corn, a cow the colour of milk, a shoe the colour of gold and a cape the colour of blood. There is also the strange caveat that the witch is not allowed to have touched any of the things they bring her. This is a running theme, because often the baker and his wife are traipsing through the woods when the witch with appear out of thin air, frightening them with her loud voice and dirty hair. When they show her that they have collected something that she wants she waves her arms about and says something along the lines of, “Stop it! Why can’t you remember that I’m not allowed to touch these things I asked you to get for me?” I know the story is based on a series of fairy tales, but frankly most of the characters’ actions seemed wildly inefficient.
The rest of the film continues in much the same vein. Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) is a young boy who also happens to be weirdly stupid. He has a pet cow whom he loves but he keeps referring to his cow as a boy, even though the cow has udders. This annoys his mother, who wishes that Jack were more intelligent. At one stage she cries, “Only female cows can make milk, Jack!” Then there is Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), who has the magical ability to sing at very high pitches. She wants to go to the ball (strangely, it is referred to as a ‘festival’ and she sings, “I want to go to the festival” over and over again; it is a song that would be equally applicable if one wanted to go to Stereosonic), so she goes ‘into the woods’ and cries on the tree that is her mother’s grave. This is neat, because then she acquires a nice dress and is able to go to the ‘festival’. The prince takes a liking to her, but she doesn’t think she’s good enough for him. Taking life advice from the film Runaway Bride (1999), she decides that a good way to get a husband is to visit the prince and runaway from him, then to repeat this two more times.1
Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) also makes an appearance. Apparently she is the long-lost sister of the baker. The baker doesn’t seem too fazed by this, even though the witch tells him about the existence of Rapunzel. Indeed, Rapunzel and the baker are never actually reunited. But that’s life, I guess.
One motif throughout the film is that characters keep dying or being maimed. Then other characters come over and cry and their tears reverse the damage. Another motif is sticky substances that characters get their feet stuck in (first Cinderella, then the lady giant). Neither of these motifs is particularly profound. In fact, they may just be accidental repetition due to laziness.
The film is two hours and five minutes. It would have been average, were it half the length. The second half of the film drags on and starts to make less and less sense. By this stage, I had tired of the singing which was less fun and carefree and more just plain depressing and confusing. At one stage the characters decide to kill a giant, then they speculate on whether or not that is an ethical thing to do. Then they forget and kill the giant anyway. The other thing that happens in the second half of the film is that the characters start dying randomly without any explanation. They also start getting divorced, even though they have been married for less than a week. The divorce is pretty tame – the wife (I won’t give away who gets divorced) just explains that her living conditions have improved too dramatically, and she would like to live somewhere that is nicer than her old home but not as nice as her (ex)-husband’s home. At end of the film, almost all the characters have died. Conveniently, the characters who remain decide that they should all become a family: two children note that they are orphans, then shrug and turn to an adult and say, “We’ll just live with you.” Then the other adult says that she will do the same, noting that she doesn’t mind doing chores sometimes.
All in all, I found the film nonsensical and boring. Clearly I am not its target audience, but films for children can be entertaining and clever for adults. Into the Woods was predictable when it made sense, and ridiculous when it surprised. It was the filmic equivalent of a sentence like this, ‘John walked down the street to buy milk BANANA**\FROG??!!! xjyw rink$##@’
I would not recommend it, even to children.
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