Once upon a time…
There was an absolutely horrendous, mind numbing, tedious movie.
Into the Woods is a movie whose commercials have graced our television screens nonstop since Halloween, a promise of Academy Award winning actors and actresses, fabulous musical numbers, and beautiful sets coupled with special effects. Like all over-cast movies, the end product did not live up to the original wager, and I, among many, am disappointed.
The plot of Into the Woods encompasses a few well-known fairytales: Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack and the Beanstalk. The stories all follow their Brother’s Grimm variation, full of the goriness of cutting off toes and heels, blinding princes and stealing babies, and are connected by a new fairytale: the Baker, his wife, and the search for fertility.
The story begins by introducing all of the separate fairytales, whose main characters live outside “the Woods”. Intent on building a sense of foreboding the cast members sing: “The Woods are trees and trees are wood,” repeated over and over. Yet, instead of eliciting any apprehension whatsoever, this mantra overcompensates and begs for something terrible to happen by overstating the warning of “the woods” (by God it’s the damn title, we get it already). However, the movie does open up with promising song, “Into the Woods” (shocker there) where all of the main characters explain their “wishes” and their subsequent reasons for entering the woods. Cinderella wants to go to the King’s festival, put in place for the prince to find a bride, Jack wants his cow to produce milk, his mother wants an intelligent son and better living conditions, the Baker and his wife want a child (methinks prematurely), and Little Red wants some sweets “for her Granny, please“. The song is well harmonized and (excuse my base understanding of music) the differing rounds interweaving throughout are pleasing to the ears. The song was a great way of getting the audience well into the backstory of each fairytale so as not to add any more time to the movie. On a side note all of the the opening numbers reminded me of “Sweeney Todd: Demon Barber of Fleet Street” due to the similar melody underneath, which gave off a sense of unease, about the most subtle of the foreshadowing in the movie. An exciting opening song, I was captivated and sat back to enjoy the rest, contemplating the cost benefit analysis of buying the soundtrack.
After 15 minutes of backstory later, the new fairytale is introduced by old hag Meryl Streep (this is not a judgement of Meryl Streep, only her current character in this movie), a witch who has been the Baker’s neighbor since he moved there as a child with his father and pregnant mother. While the Baker was a child his parents sabotaged the future by stealing vegetables from the witch, who forgave the transgression, in return keeping the baby girl upon her birth. However, the Baker’s father also stole magical beans, and by stealing those beans activated a curse placed on the witch by her own mother, which made her old.
One aspiration for most woman is to look young, so when you make a young woman look old they usually freak out (note, this is not “Howl’s Moving Castle”). The witch cursed the Baker’s family, causing them to become infertile, forcing the family line to die out. The only way to reverse this curse (it rhymes I know, an entire song in the movie consists of this internal rhyme) is by obtaining: “Cow as white as milk, Cape as red as blood, Hair as yellow as corn, and Shoe as pure as gold” within three midnights time.
Interesting plot right? A new take on old favorites, an ingenious way to thread together 5 different stories, a “Wicked” renewal of the Brothers Grimm and whatnot, right? Yes and no. While the story is an interesting one, the pace is too inconsistent. At points within the three days the couple has found all their objects very quickly, and at others everything moves so slowly I could have gone to the restroom, put on lipstick, decided I looked a bit too red light district, taken off said lipstick, and gone back into the [woods] theater and not have missed anything.
The first half did have some glimmering moments of hope, or at least an alleviation to the boredom. The first would be the small, yet memorable cameo of Johnny Depp. Depp played the Big Bad Wolf (alright this wolf might be from the “Three Little Pigs” but I digress) and was one of the creepiest characters in the entire film. His only song “Hello, Little Girl” was a love song to his next meal, Little Red. The song begins very menacingly and then livens up with some Jazz undertones that snake their way in, lightening the song. Now, based on some primitive research, this song when performed onstage is raunchy and overtly sexual, however, usually onstage Little Red isn’t played by a child, but a petite adult, so naturally for this Disney film, they needed to make this song G-Rated. Personally, by diluting the lustful pedophilia of the piece it ruined what could have been a shining moment, as instead of being completely out there and wildly inappropriate, it became a half-assed, disturbing number of veiled sexuality, leaving the audience to question whether it was purposeful or not. Later, when Little Red retells the story of the wolf to the Baker, she reiterates this veiled sexual nature by explaining she was both scared and excited by the wolf. In the end, if you can’t give 100%, maybe some things should be left for the stage.
The other moment of humor is the Prince’s number “Agony“. Many feminist writers could probably rip this song to shreds for the blatant misogyny, but I found it hilarious. The song takes the Mickey out of the classic trope of a Prince. Both princes, Charming and whoever Rapunzel’s is, sing about how their lady love’s have left them or are unattainable, and thus, the two are in agony. The song alone is humorous but it is Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen’s acting that bring it to life and had me cackling on the floor. The song takes place on a picturesque waterfall, with beautiful trees and sparkling water setting the stage for deep contemplation of… themselves. The duo jump through water, rip open their shirts, and act about as self-centered and vain as they possibly can, all the while exuding shallowness.
Besides these small moments of relief the first half of the movie was disappointing. That is not to say unenjoyable, but not something I’d pay to see again. For one, Chris Pine with his facial hair looks old, not swarthy and sophisticated, but looks like 50 year old George Clooney hitting on a 23 year old Anna Kendrick. However, the part of this film that made it nearly impossible to enjoy was the second half of the movie. If you do not want to read potential spoilers skip down, I’ll have a gif to designate when the spoiler section is finished.
The reason the second half of the movie was so difficult to watch was because it came after the “Happily ever after”. Yes, all the fairytales end as they should, and the Baker and his wife have a child. However, getting to that point was a boring struggle of keeping one’s eyes open, so to continue on was absolute torture. But continue on they did, as suddenly there was a new beanstalk, and the recent widow giantess wanted blood. So the woods were semi destroyed by a raging giant (not Grawp).
Now this is where every promising part of the story is destroyed.
- There is the Giantess, who everyone wants to kill. What has she done but house a human boy, have him steal from her, and then have her belligerent husband killed by him? Sympathy for the poor girl.
- Suddenly hot Meryl Streep stops being this breath of fresh, bitch air, and gives up, turning herself into goop and seemingly dying.
- Emily Blunt, strong-willed wonder woman that she has been thus far, is seduced by Chris Pine, and cheats on her husband and sings about how great that is yet blames her actions on the woods. Then she dies. I can’t tell if this is a commentary on women who do their own thing, a sort of religious I-told-you-so-you-adulterer, or simply men writing off strong female leads in useless and offensive ways.
- The birds watch this unspeakable tryst between Charming and Emily Blunt and tell Cinderella. When she finds out she does nothing but remove herself from the situation. Granted, I liked how she broke up with Charming, but she had no genuine reaction. No, “Your cheating wife fucked my husband!” or “What, WHAT? HE DID WHAT? BIRDS, SNIP HIS BALLS!” I mean the bitch already blinded her stepsisters with her birds. The reason this lack of a response angers me so much is that the entire tryst was unnecessary. Sure, Cinderella needed a reason to break up with Charming, but it didn’t need to be the Baker’s wife. I mean honestly, the Prince could have been with anyone, why did the musical/movie have to shallow out a very strong character like that? If the act was only going to better one relationship, why bring two into jeopardy? If the Baker had found out and it had pushed some sort of plot development then maybe, but for now it seemed like an add in that damaged the movie.
- Finally, you have the age-old, and boring, redemption story of the Baker, literally following in his father’s footsteps by abandoning his son after his wife dies, but changing his mind maybe 3 minutes later to help save the day and finish the telling of the story to his son. We even had an Obi-Wan and Yoda moment when the Wife comes back to life to pass on some worthwhile advice to her sniveling husband. Boooooring.
In all, I would give Into the Woods four on a scale to ten. While not too offensive or boring to warrant plucking your eyes out, the movie is over-hyped and underwhelming. Not entirely unenjoyable, there are moments within the stories that tantalize, mainly the Rapunzel story and “Agony”, yet for the most part the movie is a complete and utter flop that is too long, too badly paced, and not bold enough.
If you’re looking for a fun movie to watch about a couple seeking fertility, please, save yourself some grief and watch Baby Mama.