Editorial | Review: Into the Woods

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Into the Woods is the holiday movie that stitches together several of the Grimm brother’s fairy tales into a single yarn with fantastic sets and brilliant costumes, not to mention magnificent special effects.  Based on the Broadway musical, this adaptation gets a lot of things right, although I did find a few aspects either odd or off-putting.

First of all, the number one best thing about this movie was the casting.  Three performances especially stood out among a gleaming cast.  Meryl Streep is always so amazing that it almost goes without saying that her portrayal of the witch—as a crone as well as a beauty—was stellar.  Emily Blunt also blew me away in this movie.  Although the script put her character into some pretty ludicrous situations, she managed to deliver a believable performance no matter what she was asked to do, such as when she as the loving baker’s wife ends up in a compromising situation with a newlywed prince.  Last, but certainly not least, the oft maligned Chris Pine was outstandingly funny as an absurdly melodramatic Prince Charming.  He actually dressed like Prince, of “Purple Rain” fame, and summoned the spirit of Captain Kirk to state the obvious in theatrical fashion.  His performance was clearly deeply inspired by Shatner (not entirely, of course; one must never go full Shatner).  Especially poignant was his rendition of “Agony,” only slightly more emotional than his younger brother’s, played by Billy Magnusson.

On the other hand, Johnny Depp dialed in his performance as the Big, Bad Wolf, to the point that I wondered if he were drunk throughout the entirety of his performance.  He was a little too much of a rapey man, and not enough of a hungry wolf.

Speaking of weird, rapey half-wolves, the BBW song (BBW, in this case, being Big, Bad Wolf) was sexually suggestive enough to leave me feeling uncomfortable, especially since the “little girl” that the song addresses is about nine years old.  A few more references to “steak” or meat of any kind—I hear it tastes a lot like pork—would have alleviated that vibe.

Stranger danger! Stranger danger!

Stranger danger! Stranger danger!

I did love that the stories presented in Into the Woods kept even the weird pieces of fairy tales that no longer make sense in today’s more pragmatic storytelling style.  Rapunzel cured her prince’s blindness with her tears, and Cinderella’s step-sisters did cut off toes and heels to fit into the princess’s slipper, and were blinded by birds for their hubris.

I was, however, slightly confused by the ambiguity of the morals presented in the story.  Some characters seemed to think it was important to let everyone know that they were not alone, others that morality was a gray area, and the swan song of the entire movie pointed out that one should “be careful what you wish for, for wishes are children.”  If a movie absolutely must have a moral, it should probably be clearly defined—and this movie failed miserably at definition.  Perhaps the story writers wanted to throw the moral lessons of all the fairy tales into one, but since some of them contradicted each other and none were very clear, it was equivocal and off-putting.

Also, the movie was very obviously an entire act too long.  About an hour after it began, the entire conflict was resolved and everyone was prepared to live happily ever after.  I glanced at my watch in preparation for rolling credits, only to realize that there was nearly an hour of story left to see.  Adaptations from Broadway plays have the benefit of being able to ignore intermission, but this movie left it in—just without the actual curtain.

All in all, this was a very enjoyable movie.  I will probably want to watch it again, but certainly not for a lesson in childish virtues.  Without the undertones of pedophilia, this movie would get four out of five Death Stars, but as it stands, I can only give it three and a half stars.

3.5 Death Stars

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1 Comment

Filed under Editorial, Movie Reviews, Reviews, Tracy Gronewold

One response to “Editorial | Review: Into the Woods

  1. As a long-time fan of the Broadway version, I’ve got my own responses to the movie (will get to my review at some point… but it’s taking some time). If they had cut it at what was essentially the end of the first act it would, yes, have been a lovely little story — but the depth and power of the story would have been lost. Though, some of that depth was lost in decisions that were made within the story — such as the whole concept of lost innocence (which ties into the wolf’s song… still plenty uncomfortable in the stage production but at least it has supporting staging and themes that tie it in ), themes of loss, forgiveness, moral ambiguity, uncertainty, strength, etc… The lack of death of certain characters, the minimizing of other characters to make their deaths less powerful, or the minimizing and exclusion of certain characters all pull the power out of many of the themes that make me love the show so much.

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