In a village just outside the woods, the Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) make a deal with the Witch (Meryl Streep) to remove a family curse so they can finally have a child. But they must find a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold, which leads them into the woods. There, they meet Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), and Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), all of whom have wishes of their own.
Into the Woods is one of those musicals people either love or hate, not because of Stephen Sondheim’s music, but because the second half completely deconstructs the happy ending most fairytales leave us with by showing us what happens after each character gets their Happily Ever After. Essentially, the whole point of the musical is to warn parents about telling their children stories that always end happily because they’ll just be disappointed in real life. Hence the Witch’s lament: “Careful the things you say. Children will listen.”
That doesn’t mean the movie’s a total downer, mind you. The first half is a total blast. It combines the popular stories of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and others with catchy songs and shenanigans. Also, not one person in this movie was a terrible singer, which is wonderful for a film adaptation of a musical (so we don’t have a Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia or Russell Crowe in Les Misérables issue, if you know what I mean).
All of the actors seemed to fit their roles well, too. Emily Blunt and James Corden had wonderful chemistry as the Baker and Baker’s Wife. Lilla Crawford’s annoyingly adorable Little Red Riding Hood was hilarious, especially when she was shoving her mouth full of food. There’s also Christine Baranski and Tracey Ullman, both of whom make this movie better by existing. And, of course, Meryl Streep is a godsend as the Witch. She’s fabulously crazy, and her voice is silk (Seriously, go listen to “Stay with Me“). Even Johnny Depp didn’t bother me that much, despite being gross and creepy.
Now, Disney somewhat lightened the second half of the story (Gee, there’s a surprise). Specifically, they changed Rapunzel’s story. In the musical, she’s banished to the desert after the Witch catches her with the Prince (Billy Magnussen). Although he rescues and marries her, she ends up going mad and gets crushed to death by the Giant’s Widow, who destroys the kingdom after Jack kills the Giant. In the movie, Rapunzel lives and rides off with her Prince. Not sure why they changed this since everybody else who dies ended up dying.
Nevertheless, the second half is depressing and realistic yet hopeful. After the Baker’s Wife falls from a cliff, Cinderella’s Prince (Chris Pine) strays, Jack’s mother (Tracey Ullman) dies, and Little Red Riding Hood is left with no family, the Baker, Cinderella, Jack, and Little Red Riding Hood come together to defeat the Giant’s Widow and form a new family (And, shit, “No One Is Alone” is beautiful).
Overall, Into the Woods is a great film adaptation of the musical with solid performances from the entire cast. Director Rob Marshall and his crew deserve kudos, too, for not casting actors who can’t sing (which, ironically, always happens with movie musicals). Though this musical deconstructs the fairytale by showing what happens after “Happily Ever After,” I feel like it’s still an enjoyable family film. And, hey, maybe it will get more parents to stop telling unrealistic stories that will only set their kids up for disappointment in life. I wish…