Into The Woods: Well, They Tried

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Our Rating

Yes, I’m a sucker for musicals – always have been – and not at all ashamed to admit it. Yes, I blame early Disney for it, and how could I now? Remember Snow White, Aurora, and Cinderella? Totally their fault!

Musicals are fun. Musicals are entertaining. Good musicals are downright brilliant. Remember Chicago? I cannot even imagine not liking it. Admittedly, Les Miserables was a tad weird, but it was wonderfully executed nonetheless. Then there’s the most recent adaptation of Annie, which sort of opened the floodgate again. I guess I could go on for hours.

Needless to say that when the news about Disney’s adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Into The Woodscame out, I quite contain my excitement. I mean, come on! There’s something absolutely magical about Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt being on screen together – The Devil Wears Prada taught us that much. And don’t even get me started on Johnny Depp! Yes, I was excited.

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Did the film live up to my expectations though? Now, that is the question!

Despite having a whole bunch of fairy-tales thrown into the mix, the story of Into The Woods revolves primarily around the Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt), cursed by the Witch (Meryl Streep) to never have children, and an indecisive Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) whose journey is, essentially, about learning the difference between the ‘wants’ and the ‘needs’. The other story lines – that are of Little Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and his magic beans, and Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) – stay for the most part in the background, serving as supporting plots.
So, the story… Once upon a time, in a small village in the woods, there lived a childless couple – the Baker and his lovely wife. The Witch living next door cursed the Baker’s family after his father stole the greens from her garden for his pregnant wife about a million years before. The timeline is irrelevant. Also, you’d think people would be smarter than to steal from the Witch. Anyway, one day the Witch shows up at the Baker’s house and offers to lift the curse if they bring her the 4 objects necessary for the spell to work. And so the Baker sets on a journey into the woods to obtain ‘a cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold’. Good luck with that!

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At the same time, somewhere else in, perhaps, the same village, Cinderella is living a hard life with her evil stepmother and nasty stepsisters, dreaming of attending the ball at the palace. Luckily for her, her mother’s spirit is kind enough to grant her this wish, and you know how the story goes with the Prince and the shoe and all that. Except, scratch the ‘happily-ever-after’ part. This stuff is overrated anyway.

Then there’s Jack who need to get to the next village to sell his cow, and Little Red Riding Hood on her way to her Granny’s house. They all meet in the woods. A hundred times.

About an hour and a half later, the story ends, leaving us with more questions than it probably should. What happened to the Witch? Or Little Red Riding Hood’s family? Or Rapunzel? Did the Baker find out the truth about his missing sibling? Did everyone who died in the second act really have to die?

The thing with the musicals is that it’s hard to take them seriously as is, what with people starting to sing spontaneously now and then. It is even harder to make sense of them when there’s so much crammed into the plot that some of the stories barely get enough screen time at all. I was genuinely surprised to see Rapunzel whenever she happened to appear for 30 seconds (or less) because of how insufficient her involvement seemed to be.

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And, I hate to admit it, for the musical, Into The Woods didn’t have enough music or singing. You’d expect to leave the theatre after watching something – anything! – Disney, humming a tune or two under your breath. Sadly, with Into The Woods, there wasn’t a single memorable song worth remembering. It did have nice start, and yes, it managed to carry the ‘Be careful what you wish for’ message quite nicely, but overall it was hardly what I expected it to be.

The biggest problem with Into The Woods is that there’s too much parody going on to make it a proper drama, and yet it is not funny enough to be a comedy, so you basically spend two hours wondering what the hell is going on and if there’s any meaning to it all. Also, it’s veeeeeery long. They could have easily cut this film in half and it would not only still make sense, but also would definitely benefit from it.
Rob Marshall, who directed the film, wasn’t as profound as you’d expect it to be after watching his Chicago and Nine, which made me wonder what was it that made him keep Into The Woods at arm’s length instead of plunging into it and filling it with music and spectacular dancing numbers to the brim.

The performance of the key cast was perfect, hands down. Give me Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, and Anna Kendrick any day of the week! You can’t possibly go wrong with them – not that we didn’t know that already. Both Lilla Crawford and Daniel Huttlestone are adorable and genuine in their roles. I really wish we had less Prince and Prince II (did he even have a name or purpose?), and more Johnny Depp as Big Bad Wolf, whose acting was brilliant and very short lived. It is sad that even the impressive constellation didn’t save Into The Woods from being a rather mediocre and, unfortunately, forgettable film.

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Final verdict: I loved the setting, the idea, the costumes, and the acting, but the thought I left the theatre with was, “I bet it’s better on stage.” Given the chance, I would absolutely love to see the live performance, preferably with the same cast (What? A girl can dream!). However, I don’t think I’d be up to rewatching the film again anytime soon.

The Breakdown

A coffee junkie and a passionate traveler, Nadin is in love with all things writing – because who wants to live in the real world, anyway? TV or films – everything needs to be fast paced and dramatic. Scary? Even better! A vampire at heart, she can always be found in her cave, glued to her laptop. As a dedicated yogi and someone who can easily hike all the way to Alaska, Nadin thinks she’s the unhealthiest healthy person ever – because pizza, duh? She strongly believes that live needs to be lived, so… walk away from whatever makes you sad and make things happen!

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