Into the Woods  (2014)

 

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

 

There was an uproar prior to the release of this film due to concern that Disney would "soften it" from its original stage production. The musical is an entertaining but dark twist on fairy tales, with themes of infidelity, temptation, and wickedness throughout. They are softened here and some characters live who died in the original, but for the most part it remains the same, albeit shorter.

 

"I wish..."

 

Most of the occupants in the small town have a litany of wishes that they believe would make their lives better if only they would come true. Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) wishes to attend the ball that night. The Baker (James Corden) and the Baker's Wife (Emily Blunt) wish more than anything for a child. Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) just wants a basket full of sweets. Jack's mother wishes for many things, the least of which being that their cow would give milk. And the local witch (Meryl Streep) has a wish of her own ... but unlike the rest of them, she has the power to make her wish come true through magic. Bursting into the Bakery, she tells them that due to a curse she once placed upon this house, they will be barren until it is broken. They simply need to gather some things from the wood and bring them to her before the last full moon in three night's time.

 

So into the woods the Baker goes ... along with Jack to sell his cow ... Red Riding Hood to deliver food to her decrepit grandmother... a wolf (Johnny Depp) intending to lead them astray ... Cinderella to wish at the grave of her dead mother ... and the witch herself, to visit her stolen daughter Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy). In the woods, things change. Magic stirs. Darkness looms. And even if all of them get their wish, the outcome may not be what it seems.

 

Stephen Sondheim composed the original music and has gained a large following over the years through his many successful musicals, including Sweeney Todd. His style is unusual and divisive -- either audiences love it or are disenchanted with it and fail to comprehend its lyrical meaning. Into the Woods is the most marketable of his productions due to its universal themes and cast of fairy tale characters, but it still contains his trademark wit and double-meanings. How the lives of this cast of characters intersect and their stories are changed from the tales we are so familiar with is delightful to see unfold. Suddenly, Jack winding up with the magic beans makes more sense, and at one point Cinderella's prince "wises up" and puts down tar to prevent her escape... although some do not get their "happily ever after." Disney chose its cast well; most of them can sing and those that are not musically trained can still hold a note.

 

For those fearing Depp will steal the show, he is barely a note in the storyline and soon forgotten as a lesson learned by a foolish little girl. The costuming is unique and somewhat forgettable, but the setting and the eerie sensations caused through the musical numbers build up an enchanting but sinister world full of threats and possibilities. It refrains from being too grotesque (though the Evil Stepmother singing about taking a toe or two off her daughters to help them fit into the glass slipper is particularly harrowing) but does teach subtle moral themes and references metaphors throughout as it explores the concepts of wishing for what you do not have (and then still being unhappy), being struck by a person's face and title rather than their goodness, and "going astray" ... where else? ... into the woods.
  
Sexual Content:
A couple of songs contain mild innuendos; infidelity is implied through a prince's come-on to the baker's wife and her resulting song about passionate kissing and being led astray.
 
Language:
None noted, perhaps a couple mild profanities.
 
Violence:
Struggles and deaths are infrequent but present; main characters die by various implication. The witch blinds someone. The wicked stepmother cuts off her daughters' toes and heel to try and fit them into the glass slipper (off-camera, lyrics talk about it).

Other:
Magic is woven throughout, including appearances by ghosts.