Movie Review: ‘Into the Woods’

When iconic fairy tale characters Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel all find themselves alone in the woods, chaos naturally ensues. Disney’s “Into the Woods,” based off the Broadway musical of the same name, explores what would happen if these classic tales didn’t simply end at “happily ever after.”

Their stories are narrated by the Baker (James Corden), an original character, who has journeyed into the woods on his own quest – to undo a spell cast on his family by the village witch (Meryl Streep). In order to break the spell, the Baker must find all of the objects the Witch has requested: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as pure as gold. Then, and only then, will the curse be lifted and the Baker and his wife (Emily Blunt) will be able to have the child they have always wished for.

Audiences familiar with the original Grimm’s fairy tales will enjoy seeing these stories come to life, often overlapping in comical and unexpected ways. “Agony,” sung by Cinderella’s Prince (Chris Pine) and Rapunzel’s Prince (Billy Magnussen) is one of the film’s more humorous scenes.

Although “Into the Woods” is a musical comedy, it has a dark side as well. For instance, not all of the characters receive the “happy endings” that have become synonyms with Disney. The Broadway musical is even darker, but the film amended the second half in an effort to make it more family friendly.

This movie is a cornucopia of A-list actors and actresses (Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, and James Corden to name a few), a decision producers obviously hoped would draw people to see a film based on a little-known musical. Although the decision to cast actors not typically known for their singing in musical roles was a risky one, the result was not entirely catastrophic. Meryl Streep and Chris Pine in particular gave surprisingly enjoyable performances and seemed to be the most committed to their characters.

Overall, the quality of singing did not take away from the film, but neither did it add to it. The original score by Stephen Sondheim is much richer and more nuanced than what audiences are exposed to in the movie adaptation. Fans of the Broadway musical will also feel the absence of several songs that unfortunately did not make it into the film.

The star-studded cast also consisted of child actors Lilla Crawford and Daniel Huttlestone, who are no strangers to musicals (Crawford previously starred in the title role of “Annie” on Broadway and Huttlestone was last seen on screen in the 2012 film “Les Miserables.”). In their roles as Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk, Crawford and Huttlestone brought an appropriate amount of lightheartedness to balance the film’s otherwise sinister tone. Their presence also served as a reminder of the resiliency of children even in the most tragic of circumstances.

Like most fairy tales, “Into the Woods” has its own set of lessons to learn from. It deals with overcoming the sins of the fathers and acknowledging that parents make mistakes. “Be careful what you wish for” is another crucial theme, addressing the fact that sometimes the things we want are not always the things that are good for us. “Nice is different than good” sums up Little Red at the end of the song “I Know Things Now.”

“Into the Woods” runs a little over two hours and there are times when the pacing seems slow. However, the film is visually stunning and the unique story it tells is sure to keep audiences both young and old entertained long after the movie ends.

“Into the Woods” comes out on DVD and Blu-ray March 24.

Mary Kate Browning is a senior applied communications major and digital editor for Cedars. She loves coffee, goats and wearing her Batman backpack around campus.

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