Into the Woods Movie Review
Let’s start by pointing out that I’m not familiar with the Broadway Musical version of ‘Into the Woods’. I’m not sure if being a fan of the show would have made me like the movie adaptation more or less, but let’s just say it couldn’t hurt. My understanding of the musical is that it’s a comedy and fans even go as far as to call it “hilarious”. And maybe that’s the source of the problem because as the credits rolled on INTO THE WOODS, the first thought I had was that the movie was utterly unfunny. It wasn’t that the jokes were misses, it’s that they didn’t exist at all. It’s as though director Rob Marshall thought he was making a drama and never really understood that the film was supposed to be lighthearted and funny.
So what is it about? The film interweaves four traditional fairytales. We have Little Red Riding Hood, who trudges through the woods to her grandmother’s house. We have Cinderella, who has to deal with her evil stepsisters and stepmother. There’s Rapunzel locked away in a tower and finally, there’s Jack and his beanstalk. There are other stories touched on (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty), but those four drive the story. The primary protagonist in this story is The Baker and his wife, who are trying to get four items found in each of the fairytales for the evil witch. If they successfully get the four items, then the curse will be lifted and they can have a kid.
I said the movie wasn’t funny, and it clearly is not, but the lone source of comedy is from Johnny Depp, who plays the Wolf that torments Little Red Riding Hood. Unfortunately, it’s unintentionally funny and the whole scene left me scratching my head why Depp would show up for such a small part, but then I was thankful that we only had to endure him and his character for about six minutes. Meryl Streep goes overboard as the evil witch, but I’m sure people will hail her performance as spectacular because she’s Meryl Streep and most people assume she knows something they don’t. Personally, I thought I saw her every now and again on the phone with her agent complaining about having to do this film. Streep is a good sport, but her over the top portrayal of the evil witch was more distracting than impressive.
The general rule of musicals is that the music has to be good and if it’s not, then nothing else really matters. I believe in that statement wholeheartedly and with that in mind, the music in INTO THE WOODS is terrible. I despise the sing-songy voice that permeates “true” musicals and here, that’s really all you get. Each musical number was indiscernible from the other and I felt like I was trapped in a world where everyone was singing like Buddy the Elf.
Even if the music doesn’t bother you, I think you’re still in for a disappointment. The movie takes itself so seriously that it’s a relief when everything gets wrapped up and everyone lives happily ever after. Unfortunately, that’s only the end of the second act and that’s when the post-fairy-tale ending begins. Prince Charming is a misogynist, the giants want to destroy Jack and Cinderella hates her life. Bad things begin to happen to everyone involved, including some abrupt deaths, but each character moves along as if nothing happened. I can’t remember a time when a main character died in a film and everyone just moved about as if it was just a minor inconvenience. I don’t know if that’s something that just doesn’t translate well to film or if it was just poorly done, but the entire third act was a mess as far as character development and storytelling is concerned. Each event moved at a lightning pace from a character death to a character revelation that nothing felt important or had any lasting impact.
I don’t know how the public will respond to INTO THE WOODS. It has a star-studded cast, Disney is behind it and it has a prime release date, all of which lead to box office success. But it’s really hard for me to find anything positive to say about the film and I can’t imagine anyone being able to sit through it more than once. The entire cast and director have given us great films before, but this isn’t one that will be highlighted on their resumes.