First off, I had no idea this was based on a play from the 80s, I just knew it was a musical fairytale, and I was in, but after the first scene, I quickly realized this was not going to be what I was hoping it would be.
Quick synopsis –
James Corden and Emily Blunt, both of whom I adore, are a childless couple living in a small village as the local baker and his wife. They have no names, unless Mr. “Baker” counts? A musical opening number offers us the information that they would like a child, but have yet to be successful in conceiving.
In flies the witch – the always fantastic Meryl Streep, who is the witch from the original story of Rapunzel, in which she offers a trade to the man stealing from her garden – specific greens for his pregnant wife – the veggies for the baby.* Fair deal. The witch gives over a whole lot of information to this childless couple about how their house is cursed and if they complete a ritual in a given time, she will lift it.
For writers, this scene will drive you crazy. It offers all the information about the movie in one scene and without any real provocation. It’s not as if the couple sought out her help or advice. She just comes in one day and says, “Let me help you. Here’s everything you need to do, no strings attached.” Really?!
*The baker’s father was the thief, and hence Rapunzel is the baker’s sister, whom he doesn’t give a fig about finding, just FYI.
So off the couple go in search of four items that when combined by the witch will lift the curse and give them the family they desire. They need a cow the color of milk, a cloak the color of blood, hair the color of corn, and a slipper made of gold. Enter Jack of Jack and the Beanstalk with his white cow, Little Red Riding Hood (who The Sis groaned each time she opened her mouth – she was annoying), Rapunzel, and Cinderella.
As the title suggests, nearly the entire story takes place “in the woods” and they sing about it, often. Sadly, none of the songs are catchy or even memorable except for one, which I will mention shortly. The story does stay more true to the original tales in which the darker side of the storytelling is preserved, like killing the wolf to free Red and her grandmother who have been eaten whole, Rapunzel’s prince being blinded by thorns grown by the witch after being caught leaving the tower, and even Cinderella’s stepsisters cutting off parts of their feet to fit the slipper. Yep and eww.
But the overall story is weak and drags, and this is coming from Disney…Disney! Who is the reason I have a princess complex! And Rob Marshall, who directed Memoirs of a Geisha and Chicago. Chicago is great and so catchy!
Maybe because they were trying to stay true to the original, they didn’t realize that it didn’t translate. A play is limited in its location changes, hence all the woodsiness (I like that word and I’m keeping it) while the action seemed stifled and the dialogue was often too on the nose. Ugh.
The two saving graces of this film – when the witch is transformed and looks like this:
And when the two princes, one of whom is Chris Pine in a hilarious role as Cinderella’s prince, sing this song:
The story takes a weird turn about three-quarters of the way through, when the happily ever after seems too soon, but what follows is completely out of left field. There is a moment of weakness that results in a really bad consequence and the remainder of the story threw me for an unexpected, and what felt like a forced, loop.
Given the cast, the people behind it, and the basis for the story, Into the Woods was not the fairytale I was hoping for.
What are your thoughts on Into the Woods?
*Video courtesy of Youtuber John Oncer.