Be Careful About Wishes When Traveling Into The Woods
Into The Woods is a musical adaptation of several fairy tales, and the characters who interact with each other in a fairy tale kingdom. As the movie begins, a number of them make wishes for something good to come into their lives. A baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) wish for a child, even as Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) looks to see how much free bread and cookies she can get. After Red leaves, they learn from the witch (Meryl Streep) who lives next door to them that they cannot have children because she placed a curse on them. They weren't even the objects of her scorn. She continues to hold a grudge against the baker's long out-of-the-picture father (Simon Russell Beale) for stealing from her garden.
The witch, however, offers a solution. She'd like her youth to be restored, and needs the couple to get four objects. They have just three days to get the objects. The baker gets one of them when he barters with a boy named Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), who's been tasked with selling his beloved cow by his mother (Tracey Ullman). Instead of getting money for the cow, the baker trades some beans to the boy. Jack soon learns that the beanstalks that grow from the seeds will get his family all the money they need, though his actions in fleeing with the gold lead to the death of the giant who'd had it. The couple then follows Red into the woods, looking to get her cape. The baker has to wait until Red and her grandmother have an encounter with a wolf (Johnny Depp) for the girl to reconsider. While the baker's wife tends to the cow, she manages to get a hunk of hair from Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy), imprisoned in a castle by the witch.
The witch, however, isn't the only one with unusual ability. Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) asks her stepmother (Christine Baranski) to join her and her daughters Florinda (Tammy Blanchard) and Lucinda (Lucy Punch) at the kingdom's three day ball. The stepmother says Cinderella may accompany them if she can complete a seemingly impossible set of tasks before they go. Cinderella gets the help of some birds in time to get ready, only to be denied anyway, citing Cinderella's lack of a suitable wardrobe. Her secret wish is granted when she gets a beautiful gown and gold slippers, though her wish comes with a caveat. Every night, just before midnight, she heads home, but not before she gets the attention of a pursuing Prince Charming (Chris Pine). Just before the end of the third evening, she loses a slipper and trades the other to the baker's wife for shoes more suitable for running.
None of the wishes come without consequences. Nobody in the kingdom may get a happy ending if the vengeful giant's wife (Frances de la Tour) has the final say.
Into The Woods takes Stephen Sondheim's musical to the big screen in an enjoyable way. In this mix of fairy tales an music, a collection of familiar characters introduced to many of us in childhood behave in a more engaging way than the time when we first heard of their exploits. They live, they breathe, and they face consequences for their actions. As for happily ever after, they show that that takes more than wishing, if such a thing comes at all. Many, though not all, of the songs of the stage production are included. Highlights include Agony, a duet featuring Charming and a princely friend (Billy Magnussen) singing about the loves they have found, On The Steps Of The Palace, where Cinderella seemingly slows down time to explain her feelings as Charming chases her, and Your Fault, where the witch, the baker, Cinderella, Jack, and Red point fingers when they face the film's climactic predicament. James Lapine, who wrote the stage show with Sondheim, adapts the material to the screen. Director Rob Marshall, perhaps best known for directing the film Chicago, does a good job here, though the tone is uneven. The more comic parts of the film don't segue into the more serious parts very effectively as the film heads toward its climax.
Marshall also gets help from a fine ensemble. Streep keeps adding to her impressive resume as a witch who's let a grudge go too long. The baker and his wife make her realize that, and decides to be a little less evil to them. She learns that casting a spell has its consequences, and watching her make amends is amusing. Blunt and Corden are also fun as the couple who need a different sort of combined effort to get their wish of a family. The baker certainly needs to use skills he wouldn't employ around an oven to get the items the witch demands he and his wife get. They also have a hard time collecting the witch's items and keeping her rules straight. I also enjoyed Kendrick as a quietly vengeful Cinderella, though she has kindness for those who are kind to her. Other standouts include Pine as a one-dimensional Prince Charming, Baranski as a nasty and scheming stepmother, Depp as an ever-hungry wolf, Huttlestone as a dim-witted Jack, and Ullman as his less-than understanding mother.
Into The Woods creates a fairytale world to which adults can relate. A group of people make wishes for some good in their lives, but a witch adds a degree of difficulty to some of those wishes, including her own. The songs express the deepest desires of the characters, then shows how these wishes take their wishers in unexpected directions. The events in the woods hold the answers as to how the wishes are granted. Happily ever after, though, is another story.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Into The Woods three stars. A musical regarding once upon a time.