‘Into the Woods’ in review

Film adaptation attempts to recreate Hollywood magic and falls short


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The baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) venture into the woods on a quest for magical objects.

Director Rob Marshall’s 2014 adaptation of “Into the Woods” had a recipe for success.

Marshall, who had proven his directing chops with his adaptation of “Chicago,” had source material from composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who is known for his work in “West Side Story” and “Sweeney Todd.” Combining his fairy tale musical with a star-studded cast should have worked; but it didn’t.

“Into the Woods” goes into the woods and never comes out again. Every plot point serves to create more baffling twists, plot holes, muddled messages and broken character development.

Sondheim created the stage play “Into the Woods” in 1987, which wove together numerous fairy tale characters as they attempt to fulfill their dreams. However, unlike the classic “and they lived happily ever after” fairy tales modern audiences are used to, “Into the Woods” takes it a step further and asks the question: What happens after happily ever after?

The film “Into the Woods” is a relatively faithful adaptation of the original source material, albeit with less sexual content and violence than the stage production due to its PG rating. It all begins when various fairy tale characters serendipitously venture into the woods at the same time.

The baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) are encouraged by a witch (Meryl Streep) to try to lift a curse she put on his family line. Because the baker’s father robbed the witch of her magic beans, the witch lost her beauty and the baker’s wife could never have a child.

In order to lift the curse, the baker and his wife must find a golden slipper, yellow hair, a white cow and a red cape to make a magic potion. On their journey to acquire these items, the baker and his wife meet a number of other characters ensuing in a Groundhog Day-like treasure hunt.

Because the film attempts to explain so many characters’ backstories and motivations, viewers will be challenged to understand the general plot and narrative of the film. Characters integral to the plot like Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) and Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) come off as one-dimensional and bland.

Other characters like Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy) and Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) only serve as plot conveniences and might as well not be in the film at all.

In addition, only a handful of characters are named; the baker and his wife, the witch and the princes (Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen) don’t have names. This dehumanizes them and makes audience members wonder why they should care about them.

Partially due to the sheer number of characters, the pacing of the film rises and falls at random. The plot particularly slogs through the second act while a number of interesting plot points happen off screen.

The tone is also inconsistent throughout the film, where traditional fairy tale story beats clash with the sexual subtext. The princes sing about their love lives in the same musical which has a semi-pedophilic song by the Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Depp). In addition, the jump in tone between the first and second acts is especially jarring, leaving the audience dazed and confused.

The film itself is bound to leave the audience confused by the multiple morals it attempts to convey. Although the final song is devoted to how parents should raise their children, none of the parent-child relationships are fleshed out for it to have any significant impact.

“Into the Woods” also tries to convey morals like: Take responsibility for your actions; be careful what you wish for and you are not alone. Had the movie selected one lesson to focus on, the film’s plot and characters might have gained a deeper meaning.

Despite its flaws, “Into the Woods” is not a complete loss. The film is filled with sweeping visuals and great performances by Streep, Blunt and Corden. It also has moments of darker humor, which seem appropriate, as the source material is based on the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales.

“Into the Woods” should not have failed in the capacity of storytelling, and it could have worked if it was executed properly. The darker tone should have been embraced as a PG-13 or R movie rather than be transformed into a confusing half-Disney, half-Grimm mess.

Probably the largest downfall of “Into the Woods” is that it doesn’t earn anything; it doesn’t earn the audience’s investment in the characters or the plot because every story is haphazardly stitched together like a Frankenstein monster. The film would have worked better had it followed one storyline, probably the baker’s, and allowed the audience to invest in him and his story.

See for yourself whether “Into the Woods” stands up against the musical movie greats. The film will play at 7 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in Woodland Theater.