“Anything can happen in the woods.”
Into the Woods is a beautiful looking mess. Directed by Rob Marshall, the man behind 2002’s Best Picture winner Chicago, this compendium of nearly every major Disney character you could think of is actually pretty amusing. And it’s just as pointless. It chooses to follow the current trend of adapting stage plays inhabited by recognizable childhood figures, and the results are all kinds of backwoods bumpy. Into the Woods is pure light-hearted fun to start, and you expect it to be over and happily ever after. But it keeps going, and once again you expect the credits to roll. And then it pushes even farther. The first 90 minutes are cheerful and breezy, yet Marshall unwisely plays out every single beat of the stage version. It finishes on a bittersweet and somber note, morphing from a likable family film into a daft and suppressing morality play.
Simply known as The Baker (James Corden) and The Baker’s Wife (Emily Blunt), the couple is the centerpiece that brings the rest of the characters into the story. They want to get pregnant, but a curse placed on The Baker’s father by the Witch (Meryl Streep) years ago has left them barren. As you’d expect, there’s a twist. The Witch will undo the curse so long as they bring her the following items: A cow as white as milk (Jack prior to his beanstalk adventures), a cape as red as blood (Red Riding Hood), hair as yellow as corn (Rapunzel), and a slipper as pure as gold (Cinderella). While it’s silly and often too convenient, it’s entertaining to watch the husband and wife embark on the Disney themed scavenger hunt.
While they clearly lack chemistry, the film is lead by solid performances from the delightful duo of Corden and Blunt. I still can’t believe Corden is pausing his acting career for talk show duties. He’s just so fun to watch. And despite being British, Blunt has to be considered one of America’s new sweethearts. Her enormous talent matches her obviously enchanting personality. Meryl Streep nails it as the Witch (who would doubt she could). It’s a much different role for her and she knocks it out of the park. The real scene-stealer is Chris Pine as Cinderella’s Prince. He’s all brawn and no brains, an empty-headed hunk who unintentionally cracks you up. His sing-along with his brother titled “Agony” had me laughing out loud. There are some stinkers here though too. Neither Daniel Huttlestone nor Lilla Crawford are able to do much with their characters, and Anna Kendrick, while a capable singer, feels miscast in the role of Cinderella that was tremendously underwritten. And Johnny Depp…I think he’s in the movie just to have his name on the poster. He’s in two scenes, one of which is a perversely creepy and borderline rape-laced innuendo tune with Little Red Riding Hood posited as his Lolita. It’s hard to stomach.
The last act of the movie, or rather the last of the multiple final acts we’re shown, managed to ruin my viewing experience altogether. It has great songs, high quality costume and set design, and achieves a fine balance between the main characters screen time. Into the Woods could have wrapped up nicely, but instead opts to continue writing the story even when the pencil is dull and the ink has bled through, getting as lost in its own aimless ambitions as the characters do in the “dangerous” and “massive” forest. For every two steps forward it takes from the onset it jumps one massive leap backwards towards the finale. With that formula, it’s impossible to ever get out of Into the Woods. The Witch sings the quote below, and for all I know it could have been in reference to the film itself.
“You’re not good, you’re not bad, you’re just nice.”
Rating: 2.5 out of 5