Movie Review — ‘Into the Woods’ – Be Careful What You Wish For

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Adapted from the music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book originally by James Lapine, Disney tries turning their recent original story live action flops into the first retold story success with Into The Woods this Christmas.

Disney’s live action film promotions have little effect on my day to day life and it’s only when at the theater or passing by a giant bus advert, do some of these future titles actually present themselves to me. Thinking back to such releases as John Carter or The Lone Ranger (both of which I enjoy despite the overwhelming amount of those who did not), I remember being very much aware of these films’ existence and constantly reminded by the barrage of publicity spent for promotions. John Carter being one of worst performing films in many recent years (and a huge loss for Disney) only has the marketing team to blame for over-saturation.

The following releases after: Saving Mr. Banks, Muppets Most Wanted, Million Dollar Arm, Maleficent, and Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, have seen moderate to large success partly due to the small or more centralized promoting. The same formula has been applied with Into the Woods, but I was clearly not part of any target niches upon finding out the movie’s release was imminent and was also being nominated for the Golden Globe nominations a week before the film’s actual release.

An alternative retelling of various Grimm fairy tales, the film blends the plots of several Grimm fairy tales into one linear story. The main characters presented are taken from “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Rapunzel” and “Cinderella,” as well as a few others.

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When a baker and his wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt) learn they’ve been cursed childless by a witch (Meryl Streep), they must venture into the woods to find the objects needed to break the spell and start their family. Through the quest, items present themselves from other main characters in the form of Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), The Prince (Chris Pine), Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and the Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Depp) along with many more.

Released originally in 1986, the musical stage version of Into the Woods premiered and has since gone through several iterations and revivals over the past thirty years. A feature film release was imminent. To be quite honest I have never heard of this musical until (like previously started) a week ago. After watching the trailer and keeping my eyes off the back story to sit down and watch this version with a clean slate, I feel like I fundamentally understood the story, but I didn’t enjoy it to the extent as others did. Upon reading into the production of the film and the many versions of the play, a few of my qualms resolved, but only through persistent review on my end and watching the original play. To those that will see this movie blindly and clean like I did, you may agree with my input while returning spectators will only critique the film’s adaptation and choose a side of completely loving or hating it like so many musicals that have come before.

Who doesn’t love fairy tales? Disney retelling many classics in the form of animated films have been cemented in my childhood as authenticity for the tale. Upon growing up and reading the original or other iterations, you start to see how convoluted certain tellings miss the central theme or purpose of the story. It was nice to see Disney produce a film like Into the Woods with a more 1:1 ratio to the original stories, but seeing these stories play out on screen only make you only see how silly they truly are.

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Cinderalla’s original story has her leaving each night of the three night ball from the Prince after encounters that prove to be magic between the two, and the film reaffirms this as fact. Yet the Prince is still so determined to find his princess to be (even after talking with her face to face three times), that he scours the land with a single slipper and even goes so far as believing he has found his maiden on one fitting from her stepsister when it is clear to both him and everyone that it is not her.

Fairy tales are simple and complex like this, yet the film does nothing to help the viewers into buying its authenticity. Jack, a small 8-year-old boy, cuts down an entire beanstalk the size of a house on his own AND before the giant can catch him? Yeah, ok. Also, what is the giant doing with a normal human sized harp? That thing should be like the size of a cow.

The music in the movie was very well executed by the entire cast from my initial introduction to it through the film, but some left me scratching my head or plain waiting for it to finish. The first song in particular needs to tell you the title of the movie forty three times before moving on. You know, just in case you’re in the wrong theater. Johnny Depp’s only song (regrettably), comes off more sinister than I’m sure it should and the song by the prince brother’s made me quite sure who the target audience was. The only notable ones I actually would listen to again are Jack’s song about “Giants in the Sky” (pure perfection with being a young person and finding new horizons) and “Stay With Me” performed by Meryl Streep.

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The art direction was engulfing and on point for the entire movie and it continued pushing itself even into the sudden and tedious third act. The entire script would have worked better with a few rewrites to relieve confusion caused from the source material stories and the combination of these stories sets this film apart, but also hurts it greatly with each scene. You cannot show Rapunzel’s hair clearly being cut greatly and the next scene still have enough for the Witch to climb up. The movie is full of these plot holes that consistently took away from my experience. What do they eat for three days in the woods? Why couldn’t they find another cow to film? I’m 97% sure they used the exact same cow for two separate cow roles. Also, pebbles should have no effect on giants.

James Cordon’s performance kept me very enthused that the picture would find a way to redeem itself, but even he was unsure of the film’s final moments and the entire cast disappears suddenly and without much attention towards the last twenty minutes. Looking back at it now (and listening to the movie’s soundtrack), there wasn’t a single performance that fell short in my eyes, although that cow looked overworked.

While Disney tries their best to sell a story that has guaranteed positive results on stage, they ultimately neglect the underlying magic that really could bring these stories to life. Fans of the musical will probably enjoy this adaptation, and I might even go see it again if time permits now that I have knowledge of the production — maybe it will change my views in some capacity.

If you’re like me and have no previous experience with Into the Woods, prepare to feel slightly neglected as the film caters to those already singing along.

 

GRADE: 5 / 10

 

Photos via: Disney

 

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About Author

Squall Charlson

Currently in school for Digital Film and Video Production, Squall Charlson dreams big while working as a director, actor, film editor, and screenwriter for his own and many local projects. Much of his work revolves around the Tokusatsu genre; giving it a unique flavor. Adding his technical insight for both production and story elements, his movie reviews will touch on the best of both worlds.

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