The movie adaptation of the stage adaptation of a collection of classic fairy tales all jumbled together into one story.
A baker and his wife wish to have a child. However, that task seems to be impossible. It turns out that the reason for their childbearing trouble is a curse placed on them by a witch. The witch cursed the baker because his father stole some beans from the witch’s garden, not because of anything that he did directly. The witch’s mother had told her to protect those beans above all other things in that garden. When the beans were stolen, the witch herself was cursed to lose her beauty. So, in return, she cursed the man’s family. The terms of the curse were that his family would not continue. However, the witch makes a deal with the baker and his wife that, if they can retrieve several items for her, she will reverse the curse. The items she needs are a cow that’s white as snow, a slipper made of gold, a cape that is as red as blood, and hair as gold as straw. For those familiar with the fairy tales, these items are the cow from Jack and the Beanstalk, the slipper from Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood’s cape, and Rapunzel’s hair.
It just so happens that each of these characters are setting off on their own journeys into the woods at the same time. This allows all of their stories to intersect as the baker and his wife travel through the woods in search of the items that the witch needs. Again, if you’re familiar with the stories as individual pieces it’s pretty easy to tell what happens in the film early on. The interesting thing is how the baker and his wife interject themselves into each character’s story without interrupting them. For instance, Little Red Riding Hood is still on her way to her grandmother’s house with a basket of baked goods. It just so happens that she gets those baked goods from the baker and his wife before she heads into the woods. She goes through her entire ordeal with the wolf and is saved by the baker, not a hunter/woodsman. In gratitude for his service she gives him her hood. Forgetting, I guess, that he tried to steal it from her earlier. Later, the baker’s wife convinces him to buy Jack’s cow and to offer him the witch’s magic beings in exchange. Of course, she doesn’t believe that the beans are actually magic but, as we all know, that turns out to not be the case. Jack drops the beans outside of his house and the beanstalk grows up to the sky. Jack ascends the beanstalk, steals from the giant, and ends up killing the giant; all so that he can buy back his cow from the baker and his wife.
Cinderella’s story is probably the least entangled with the baker and his wife. She just happens across the baker’s wife as she’s running away from the prince’s castle after the ball. When the baker’s wife realizes that she needs Cinderella’s shoe the two collide and the wife ends up stealing the shoe from her. Rapunzel turns out to be the daughter of the same witch who cursed the baker and his family. Both Rapunzel’s Prince and Prince charming are also in this tale and they just happen to be brothers. As the stories weave together everybody works toward their happy endings and all seems like it’s going to be just as you’d expect it. The two princes complete their heroic-ish stories and have a double wedding. Everything seems right with the world.
Then, the third act of the movie begins. During her exchange with Cinderella, the baker’s wife had dropped one of the magic beings on the ground. That caused another beanstalk to grow and allowed another giant to climb down the stalk in search of the one responsible for killing the giant from Jack’s story. That’s when everything falls apart in this fairy tale world. The members of the kingdom are thrown into chaos and are perfectly willing to give up Jack to the giant in order to save themselves. We find out that Prince Charming, while charming, is not necessarily sincere as he cheats on Cinderella with the baker’s wife. Relationships fall apart and the casualties start to mount, leaving the baker and Cinderella, as well as some children, to deal with an angry giant and the witch on the loose. After the giant is dealt with, the witch is absorbed by her own powers. The baker is left, along with Cinderella, to tell the story of what happened to the kingdom to the children as a fairy tale.
So, I did not know anything about this movie coming in. I did not know that it was an adaptation of a Broadway show. I did not know that it was a musical. I definitely did not know that it was going to have a train wreck in the third act that would completely destroy any happiness from the fairy tales that I grew up with. Still, it’s the kind of movie that I can appreciate for what it is even though that may not be the kind of thing that I particularly enjoy.
I’m all for retelling fairy tales and I do usually enjoyed musicals. However, I’m not sure that I can get on board with the movie that seems to so inexplicably fall apart at the seams like this does. When I say fall apart at the seams, I’m not talking about from a quality standpoint. I’m talking about about how the story just devolves and dives into this very dark place where characters die and do bad things seemingly for the sake of just doing bad things. On a personal level, I can’t say that I cared for it. On a more objective level, I can definitely appreciate what the movie did.
The movie delves into the after of the “happily ever after” aspect of the stories. It shows one interpretation of what could happen to our fairy tale characters after their fairy tales are completed. Adding on to that is the unique aspect of trying to intertwine all of the fairy tales together. Actually, that aspect was a little bit more unique a few years ago. Now it seems to have become a little bit more commonplace. Still, I could definitely appreciate the execution of intertwining those stories together. Apparently, the de-evolution of happiness is a trait of other Sondheim works (the writer of the musical the movie is based on). However, I’m not very familiar with Sondheim’s work so I couldn’t tell you if that’s an accurate analysis.
What I can tell you is that I did enjoy the music of this film and some of the performances. Probably the strangest performance, for me, was Johnny Depp. I had wondered why the billing for this movie said “with” Johnny Depp instead of listing him with the other cast members. After watching the film, I understand. He’s in the movie for probably five significant minutes. He sings one song and strikes one very dramatic pose before being killed off very early in the film. It just seems like kind of a waste to bill him in this movie for such a short performance. That being said, the time that he was on screen was very good. If anything, what bothered me about his usage in the movie is that there wasn’t more of it. The movie did have plenty of Meryl Streep, and why wouldn’t you, given her abilities. She plays the witch very well, having to be both maternal and evil at the same time. I’m not really sure what to make of the other performances in the movie, because I’m not very clear on what the characters were supposed to be. I can say that, if you were expecting the traditional versions of the characters, you definitely aren’t going to get that.
In general, it’s hard to think of what kind of person should watch this film. Musical theater buffs will likely be disappointed or at least dubious to the elements that were left out from the Broadway play. People wanting to go see a family film are more than likely going to be disappointed by the tragedy that strikes toward the end of the movie. I actually had both of those groups of people with me watching this film and neither group seemed to pleased. That’s not to say it’s a bad movie, it’s just not a normal one. This is the kind of movie that I could see a high school class having to watch during a period where the teacher didn’t have a lesson plan. It’s got a ton of literary and storytelling elements that are good and well executed as well as some very well put together music. It also manages to create a great effect of sucking the viewer in to a happily ever after story before not only dashing the characters, but the viewers, emotions on the rocks at the end. So, you might not leave with a very warm and fuzzy feeling, but you will have left with a significant experience.
Into the Woods
- The Music
- Cast chemistry
- unexpected take on traditional fairy tales
- The story takes an abrupt and, in some cases, unwelcome turn in the 3rd act
- Movie looks more like a Broadway play than a movie