Into the Woods (2014)

Into the Woods (2014)
  • Time: 124 min
  • Genre: Adventure | Comedy | Fantasy
  • Director: Rob Marshall
  • Cast: Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Johnny Depp


Into the Woods is a modern twist on the beloved Brothers Grimm fairy tales in a musical format that follows the classic tales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel-all tied together by an original story involving a baker and his wife, their wish to begin a family and their interaction with the witch who has put a curse on them.


  • Be careful what you wish for, the old saying goes, a warning that could serve as a counterpoint to Disney’s “Anything your heart desires / Will come to you.” It seems a rather curious pairing then to have the film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods under the Disney aegis. It’s a dark and thorny piece where wish fulfillment comes with unforeseen consequences, its cold comfort not exactly trumpeting the happily ever afters espoused by the Magic Kingdom.

    “I wish” is the mantra taken up by the musical’s characters, most of whom were culled from various fairy tales. Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) wishes to go to the King’s Festival, Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) wishes his cow would give milk and, more than anything, the baker and his wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt) wish to have a child. The old witch (Meryl Streep) next door informs the couple of a curse she placed on the baker years ago – because his father stole magic beans from her garden, she stole his daughter Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) and ensured the baker would never have a child. Yet she can reverse the curse if the baker and his wife can bring her the following ingredients within the next 72 hours: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold.

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  • This film was recommended.

    Into the Woods is so very thrilling, so wildly alive, at least, halfway through the woods. In the first hour, the film stays its merry course with its satirical mash-up of fairy tales. The “happily ever” factor works so seamlessly and the integral blending of story and music are in perfect alignment making the film a truly enjoyable comic romp.

    But it’s the “after” section, the complete turnaround in the plot, when the film loses its way (just as it did for me with the stage production). The more sinister elements of the story overtake its characters and their choices. Retribution must be paid. Tough love for everyone! The entire tone of the film shifts abruptly as despair and sadness befall every character. The uplift becomes oppressively a downer. (I know that that was the intent of Stephen Sondheim & its creator, James Lapine, but it all seems so forced in both versions.) Yet, following the characters and their quests with its Sondheim score more than atones for some small missteps and misconceptions by its filmmakers.

    Into the Woods is a mash-up of fairy tale characters (Cinderella, Jack of beanstalk fame, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, etc.) whose lives intersect as they get lost in the woods. A baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) are sent on a mission by a witch (Meryl Streep) to reverse a curse in order to have a child. They go on a scavenger hunt to retrieve four items: a glass slipper, a red cape, some yellow hair, and a white cow. Along the way, they meet princes (Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen, overdoing their dimwitted and narcissistic best to full comic effect), evil stepmothers and stepdaughters (Christine Baranski, Tammy Blanchard, and Lucy Punch) and the Big Bad Wolf (a miscast Johnny Depp, once again hamming it up as a creepy zoot-suited lascivious Tex Avery cartoon which is jarringly out-of-sync with the rest of the movie.) Marshall’s overall concept of the wolf and Depp’s poorly sung execution is so misguided, in its physical look and desperate performance lacking no comic edge, that it stops the movie cold.

    The film does begin with a wonderfully staged prologue introducing all of these well known storybook characters who recount their desires and wishes in marvelous song. The score remains one of Sondheim’s strongest and his clever wordplay adds to the delight of the filmgoing experience. Director Rob Marshall shows off his musical skills and shapes the film with lavish production values, fluid editing, and strong performances (for the most part, more on that later). Marshall shrewdly allows the songs to move the action without sacrificing the story or character’s motives. One can quibble about some of the songs omitted from the film adaptation, especially the haunting No More (instrumental only?), but the film is generally faithful to the Broadway production, even if some of the darker story elements have been toned down.

    The film is performed with much style and flair by its cast. Blunt and Cordon are extremely effective as the married couple wanting a family but losing themselves in the process. Both actors bring vulnerability and pathos to their roles, plus powerful voices to their characters. They are the heart of the film, as it should be. The other subplots have mixed results in performances, from the worse being aforementioned Depp’s shady wolf to the perfect duo of Pine & Magnussen (Their duet, Agony, is the film’s highlight.) Streep is very strong as the witch, dealing with Sondheim’s patter songs most bewitchingly. She does a lovely job with the ballads as well. Solid support is also given by MacKenzie Mauzy, Lilla Crawford and Daniel Huttlestone. Tracey Ullman as Jack’s mother is sadly underused.

    Into the Woods may get too Grimm for the younger set and too solemn at the journey’s end for the older crowd, but this walk through the forest is mostly a delightful musical adventure led by Marshall and his talented crew. GRADE: B

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  • Stephen Sondheim’s award-winning Broadway musical seems like it would be perfect for a big screen adaptation. The scope of the stage production with it’s big sets, many characters and magical elements would make a stage feel packed, like there was too much action going. But somehow, on the screen this story seems like it’s spread a little too thin.

    The story combines all of the most famous fairy tales into one big adventure and gives origin to some of the more popular ones. A childless baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) want to have a family, but are unable to do so due to a curse laid upon the house by the witch (Meryl Streep), who lives next door. She is willing to reverse the curse if they retrieve four items for her; a milky white cow, a blood red cape, a golden slipper and some blonde hair. These of course are all items belong to Jack (Daniel Huddlestone), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) and Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy).

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  • Quickie Review:

    A witch has cursed the family of a baker, preventing him and his wife from having a child. However, the witch offers to lift the curse in exchange for four items, which the couple must obtain in three days. In their quest to obtain the items they cross paths with other fairy tale characters who have their own wishes to fulfil. This movie is based on Broadway musical and as such almost 90% of the movie is told through songs. While the songs are not particular catchy, the story of the quest is interesting enough to hold your attention. Unfortunately the movie keeps running for 30 mins too long making a potentially nice little fantasy film feel like a drag.

    Full Review:

    I’ll admit, musicals aren’t one of my top genres of film. Of course I love Disney animations and there are other musicals that I’ve enjoyed, but I’d never go out of my way to watch a musical. Still considering the cast and the possible fun to be had by mixing different fairy tales into a single story, I was curious. For the most part I had fun with it… until I thought the movie ended but kept going.

    First of the world created in this film is very impressive. The set design, costumes, and the magic-isms (by that I mean CGI), were all well realised. It felt like a Disney animation fairy tale setting and I enjoyed that a lot. Mixing all these fairy tales could have made for a really incoherent story, with plot holes all along the way. Thankfully that was not a problem at all, even with the songs it was nice to see how everyone’s story was tying in together. Majority of this movie is told in songs so there better be good singers involved and there are. None of them were breathtakingly beautiful, but they were not horrible either. There was not another Les Misérables, Russel Crowe situation. It was all going pretty well until the words “Happily ever after” were about to be uttered and the filmmakers decided to add another act.

    The single most frustrating thing about the movie is the last 30 mins. I can honestly say that if it weren’t for that addition to the movie I would’ve rated Into the Woods a lot higher. But that’s not the reality of the situation and it brought the rest of the movie down with it. In a way the movie is a one and a half story. One story is about the witch and the quest for the four items, the half story is about a giant trying to get revenge. There is a subplot in the main story involving the giants because of Jack and the Beanstalk. However, that wasn’t very important to the quest so I did not understand why that subplot needed 30mins of resolving. Perhaps for the film they decided to omit some parts from the musical involving the giants in the first half. If that was the case then the ending should still have been removed because it completely nullifies the character development made in the rest of the movie.

    It really is a pity about the treatment of the ending. It led me to check the time on couple of instances, that’s never a good sign. In the end I cannot recommend paying to see this in cinema, it’s just not worth your money. I have never seen the original musical but I can guess that the fans of that will also be really disappointed due to the missing story plots.

  • Tony Barton

    The Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) are visited by their neighbour, the old Witch (Meryl Streep). She tells them both of a spell she placed on their home many years ago, a spell that results in their family being unable to have children. However, the Witch agrees to reverse the spell, if in return, they assist her in her efforts to regain her looks. However, for this to be made possible, they must first agree to undertake a perilous quest, deep into the Woods to find the items the she needs.

    Into the Woods cleverly merges the stories of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel. The movie can boast a strong cast, that includes, amongst others Jonny Depp and Tracy Ullman. I am not a big fan of the musical and often find the endless singing of all the lead characters a distraction and I have to say that I often felt the same during this movie. The subject matter, will undoubtedly appeal to the younger members of the audience. However, Mums and Dads may feel that some scenes are unsuitable.

  • Johnny Depp has always been known to play weirdos or freaks on camera. 2014’s Into the Woods is just another film catering to his fixation for such fodder. His role in “Woods” hightails the fictional Big Bad Wolf and he’s on and off the screen faster than a speeding bullet. Does his five minutes of fame really matter though? Not so much. He’s just another pawn in this hyperactive mess of a movie that feels more like a stage play than anything else. Characters break into song relentlessly bringing the two hour proceedings at times, to a screeching halt. As I attended a sold out, Christmas Day showing, I thought I should be waiting for riggers to dart across the stage. I also thought the curtains were going to go down after each act, and then I found myself yearning for muted applause from the audience. Oh and I was bored for most of the vehicle’s running time. Bottom line: After seeing Into the Woods, I realized that musicals belong in the theater, not in popcorn-munching multiplexes. You won’t get a more truer statement from me anywhere.

    Granted, this is a flick based on a musical by Stephen Sondheim (he adapted 2007’s Sweeney Todd) and a book by James Lapine. Rob Marshall (he shot 2002’s highly energized, Chicago) takes on the reins as director and he inconsistently tries to weave four fairy tales (“Little Red Riding Hood”, “Cinderella”, “Jack and the Beanstalk”, and “Rapunzel”) into something an audience can follow. Bully for that. He provides Into the Woods with a lush, dangerous look only to have his editor (Wyatt Smith) appear to be on holiday. Too many characters fade in and out, too many scenes don’t gel from one to the next, and the songs all sound the same (I heard that’s the case with most musicals so count me out on seeing any more of them in the future). In truth, this is a clusterfunk of gigantic proportions, a sort of sabotage on the part of the actors/actresses who truly give it their best effort (Meryl Streep as a witch, kills it and should get her umpteenth Academy Award nomination). They can all sing, they obviously can act, but their jumbled storylines are wasted upon us, the audience. Oh and the script forces everyone to say “into the woods” about a million times throughout. I guess this is catered to the ticket buyer who is not misconstrued by the film’s title (ha-ha).

    Now with Into the Words almost becoming a virtual, continuous loop of characters breaking out into song, most of the pieces (examples would be “Prologue: Into the Woods”, “It Takes Two”, and “Magic Beans”), have the same refrain, the same rondo, and virtually the same stanza (musical terms that involve repetition). This became a nuisance. There was one sequence however, where the cast members exhibited impeccable timing and I was impressed to know how they actually pulled it off. If you take in a viewing and listen for the movement, “Your Fault”, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

    Regardless, this wannabe critical darling is almost too intense to harness a PG rating (what with the implied notion of people’s toes getting amputated and evil birds attacking two woman causing them to go completely blind). And with its elaborate cast (including Chris Pine, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, and Tracey Ullman), I expected Rob Marshall and crew to right the ship. Negatory. Into the Woods is out of bounds with its incoherency and choppy narrative. Halfway through it, I wanted to leave the theater to go home and have a stiff drink.

    Of note: When the final credits for “Woods” came up, I heard about ten to fifteen people clapping. My ten year old nephew who also attended the screening, asked why they were clapping. My sentiments exactly.

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