When it was announced that Disney would be producing the screen adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods, fans of the stage musical were nervous as hell. They were excited. Well, excited and scared.
You see, Into the Woods is a musical that is easily made for the screen. That was not the problem. The problem was how Disney, a company known for their rather wholesome films, was going to produce a musical that is as dark as Into the Woods. Fans and critics were concerned that Disney would, well, Disney-fy it. However, that didn’t seem to be the case. Sure, they omitted some things and left other things up to the assumptions of the viewer in order to obtain the PG rating, but they left enough in that it still drove the overall message of the musical home: be careful what you wish for, for you’ll have to accept the consequences.
Honestly, I’m surprised that the film wasn’t rated PG-13, as is. I wish it would have been, as then more of the dark undertone could have been kept in the film, but I’ll work with what I got.
So, where to really begin? (No joke, I have four pages of notes on this film to sift through.)
I guess I’ll begin with what I want to discuss the most, which is the overall themes of the film, the ones that had been left in from the musical. Wishing, and ultimately selfishness, and their consequences are large themes in this film. From the very beginning with the song “Act 1: Prologue: Into the Woods”, the words ‘I wish…’ come out of every single character’s mouth at least once. Each one has desires that they want fulfilled. Now, unlike the fairy tales that this musical is based on, once those wishes and desires are fulfilled, well, that’s not the end. I mean, we have a whole second half of a film to watch. And the second half is filled with the consequences of all of those wishes. And a lot of people end up dead. Actions have consequences. SPOILERS AHEAD Jack’s mother is dead because he went up the beanstalk to get the harp, due to a dare from Red Riding Hood, causing one of the giants to follow him down the beanstalk, and dying when Jack cuts it down, and then that giants wife (let’s call her Lady Giant) comes down another beanstalk (sprouted up when Cinderella threw the magic bean that was given to her by the Bakers Wife in exchange for her golden shoe) killing Jack’s mother and a shit ton of other people. (Okay, technically, the Steward kills her while trying to stop her from talking back to Lady Giant) I mean, that’s just one example (that also sounds like a weird fever dream, if I’m being completely honest).
Parent/Child relationships are present throughout the film, as well. I mean, the entire character of the Baker and his Wife are motivated by the fact that they want a child. Cinderella has no parent/child relationship (well, maybe she does? I think it’s with a tree?). Jack and his mother have a loving yet frustrating relationship. And the Witch and Rapunzel have, what is probably, the most honest and open relationship (minus the fact that I’m pretty sure Rapunzel doesn’t know that she was given to the Witch as a punishment for somebody else). ANYWAY, just listen to the final song “Children Will Listen”. I mean, it says it all.
Story time (that segues into an actual point, I promise): At the time that this film was released, I was working at a Best Buy somewhere in the Midwest. There were lots of parents coming in to buy the soundtrack of the film for their children. Now, because I had seen the movie and enjoyed it immensely, I would strike up a conversation with these parents, asking them their opinion of the film. Nearly all of them would say the same thing: they liked it, but they weren’t sure that it had actually been appropriate for their child. WELL, OF COURSE NOT. I swear, some parents don’t do any research before taking their children to see movies. It’s a Sondheim musical. There’s going to be adult themes throughout the musical numbers, you can bet your ass on that. The best examples are the songs “I Know Things Now” and “Giants in the Sky”. Both scream sexual exploration in the original stage musical. However, that has a lot to do with the ages of the characters of Little Red Riding Hood, who sings “I Know Things Now”, and Jack, who sings “Giants in the Sky”. In the stage musical, these characters are usually played by people in their twenties. Therefore, lines like
As she pulls you close to her Giant breast
And you know things now
That you never knew before
Not till the sky
or literally any of the lines from “I Know Things Now” come off as sexual exploration. Now, change the ages of the people playing the roles to reflect the actual ages of the characters, and you have an entirely different story. The song “Hello, Little Girl” sung by the Wolf, played by Johnny Depp in the film, comes off as incredibly pedophilic, with lines like “Look at that flesh, pink and plump” and “Tender and fresh, not one lump, hello, little girl”. But, of course, this is all fitting as a wolf is a predator.
Okay. Let’s talk about something lighter, shall we? The performances in this film are outstanding, to say the least. Emily Blunt and James Corden have wonderful chemistry and Emily Blunt gives one hell of a performance as The Baker’s Wife. Both children in the film, Lila Crawford and Daniel Huttlestone are perfection. I could listen to every song those two sing in over and over again and always be amazed by their singing voices. Of course there’s Anna Kendrick who does a good job, even if the character of Cinderella in this film annoys me. Christine Baranski, I’m convinced, has never done poorly in any film that she’s ever been in. Chris Pine seems to be channeling William Shatner AND NOBODY CAN CONVINCE ME OTHERWISE. And, of course, there’s Meryl Streep as The Witch, giving one hell of a performance. All of these characters are very driven by only their desires and each actor understands that. That is very clear.
Rob Marshall is the director of this little film. You may know that name in the movie musical realm because he had also directed Chicago (2002), which is the film that most credit as the one that brought back movie musicals. He has a way of pulling wonderful performances out of his actors in this film, and thank goodness for that. This film, this story, is so character driven, that good performances are a must. The editing is seamless which, of course, is a sign of great editing.
As far as movie musicals go, I think this is a good one. As I’ve said before, it’s nearly impossible for a movie musical to please the stage audience and the movie audience, but I think this film does a damn good job at meeting right in the middle.
Now, for your viewing pleasure, please enjoy the most ridiculous, majestic, over dramatic pissing match between two brothers in movie musical history: