Full disclosure: I hate spoilers in reviews, so there won’t be any in this one. INTO THE WOODS is based on Steven Sondheim and James Lapine’s Tony-awarding winning musical of the same name. After seeing INTO THE WOODS, I’m sure there will be many more awards coming. Continue reading for our full spoiler-free INTO THE WOODS movie review, and click here for a behind-the-scenes chat with the cast and crew to learn more about the joyful experience creating this film.
INTO THE WOODS is a collection of classic fairy tales woven into and around an original fairy tale, which serves as the focal point of the story, the Maypole around which the stories of Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and the Beanstalk, Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), etc., intertwine, getting closer and closer until they all meet in the center. The original fairy tale is about the Baker (James Corden) and the Baker’s Wife (Emily Blunt), who are childless and yearn for children, bringing to mind the fairy tales of Thumbelina and Rumpelstiltskin. We learn early on, when Red Riding Hood comes to raid the bakery that it is the Baker’s Wife who yearns more. Each of the storylines has a reason to go into the woods, where they encounter each other and impact each other’s stories.
INTO THE WOODS, as a fairy tale, is spot on. There are curses and wishes and tricks and diversions and, of course, a witch and some helpful animals. Learning the reason for their childlessness starts the quest (time-sensitive, obviously) that sends the Baker and the Baker’s Wife into the woods. The other characters have their own reasons for going into the woods, as well, but their presence in the woods is crucial to the Baker’s quest. The twists and turns essential to a fairy tale are all there in a setting also typical of fairy tales. With the conflation of the various tales, it’s as if the woods are a magnet to which all of the characters are drawn along the various paths.
INTO THE WOODS is about family. The Baker and his wife are trying to create one, Little Red Riding Hood is helping hers, Cinderella is escaping hers and trying to find a new one, and Jack is trying to save his. But INTO THE WOODS is also about wishes. The old adage, “be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it,” applies here, but there’s a deeper message, too, voiced by the Witch (Meryl Streep). Each of the wishers in the story had to work very hard to make their wish come true and, for some of them, the realization of their wishes was not exactly how they’d expected it to be. The quest to wish fulfillment can distract the wisher from the wish, focusing the wisher on the quest, rather than the goal.
One off-note, for me, was the Wolf (Johnny Depp). His predatory behavior has overtly sexual overtones, more so than necessary (in my opinion – I verified with someone who’d seen the Broadway show that the portrayal is the same on stage), a modern take on the “wolves” on which the original wolf was based. I’m a big fan of Johnny Depp and he played this part well, leaving me feeling completely creeped out, so I would consider this carefully when deciding whether or not to bring younger children.
The staging of the movie was extremely creative. At times, a big vast world can be seen and at other times, it’s almost as if viewers are sitting in a theater watching it live on stage with the action tight and controlled and almost intimate. The costumes are creative and add color to the movie, a necessity for a movie that takes place mostly in woods. I especially loved the costumes of Cinderella’s stepfamily (Christine Baranski, Lucy Punch, and Tammy Blanchard). Everything about them was just the right amount of over-the-top.
What can be said about Sondheim’s music that hasn’t already been said? The lyrics are impressive (I will never forget “her withers wither with her”) and the music is technically challenging, making it even more impressive that the cast is comprised of actors, rather than singers. They are all fantastic. Meryl Streep performing “The Witch’s Rap” made my year. You read that right – Meryl Streep raps in INTO THE WOODS. I could stop there, but as great as Meryl Streep is, all of the actors did a fine job with the singing, even those I hadn’t expected too much from (I’m not naming names).
INTO THE WOODS is a family film, if the youngest in your family aren’t very young children who may not like the “scary” scenes. INTO THE WOODS brings back the darkness of the fairy tales that was omitted from the animated features, and I love that they’re truer to the original stories, but that may not be suitable viewing for the very young. The Wolf scenes are also quite disturbing and potentially confusing. You’ll have to decide for yourselves whether or not your youngsters can handle it. For grown-ups, this is a fantastic movie for date night, hanging out with friends or even just getting away from work for a couple of hours. I highly recommend INTO THE WOODS and hope you’ll come back and give us your thoughts about it in the comment section below.