Into the Woods

Into the Woods (2014) is the big-budget film adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim stage corden-small2musical of the same name. It is directed by Rob Marshall, and stars James Corden, Emily Blunt, and Meryl Streep.

Into the woods four fairy tale characters must go: Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) to sell his cow as white as milk, Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) in a cape as red as blood to visit Granny, Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) to hide from a prince before her clothes turn back to rags, and the baker (James Corden) to collect ingredients for a spell that will allow his wife (Emily Blunt) to bear a child: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, a slipper as pure as gold. But when an angry giant chases Jack down the beanstalk, infertility seems like an insignificant problem.

Although Into the Woods is suitable for children (rated PG), adults will get more out of the film because through story and song it updates the morals of familiar fairy tales to be applicable to grownups. Little Red Riding Hood is not simply a “don’t talk to strangers” warning. After she is abused by the wolf (Johnny Depp), she sings about the complicated emotions of the experience: how it was both terrible and exciting, and how in a way it was a good thing because she knows more now. The witch (Meryl Streep) keeps Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) locked in a tower not because she’s wicked but because she is protective over her much loved adopted daughter. The woods, a metaphor of course, makes the baker’s confidence blossom, but it is also a place for his wife to get lost in infidelity. And Jack has to learn to deal with the death of his mother, who wasn’t murdered by a giant but by human error. Sometimes people leave you half way through the woods.

The film is a pretty true adaptation. In some ways it is cinematic: you can see the lumbering giant, the height of the beanstalk, the power of the witch’s magic. In other ways, it still feels very much like a stage show. Most of the movie is spent singing and talking. (According to the seven-year-old I watched the film with, this lack of action and too much mushy love stuff makes the film boring for children.) But you wouldn’t want an adaptation of this show to be filled with action because it is really about the themes. There can be no true morality tale, it seems to say, because life is too complex and how are you ever to know the right thing to do when the world is full of nice people and no one is truly good.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed the film. It will most appeal to fans of the stage musical or other Stephen Sondheim productions (Sweeney Todd, for example). If you’re looking for one of those action fantasy movies like Snow White and the Huntsman, this film isn’t for you.




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