Better Stay Out of the ‘Woods’

“Into the Woods” requires you to forget everything you previously thought about fairytales and journey instead into the woods where all of these stories collide together — not always with a happy result.

There’s Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), desperately trying to decide between two lives, and her Prince (Chris Pine), a vapid and hilariously single ruler. In their village lives the vivacious and sassy, Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), a lonely, adventurous boy named Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), a childless yet determined Baker (James Corden), the Baker’s Wife (Emily Blunt) and a manipulative Witch who uses them all (Meryl Streep).

All together, each person is trying to make his or her wishes come true. For the Witch, she has tasked the Baker and his Wife to reverse a curse put on their house, so that they may have a child (and in the process, the Witch will become young and beautiful again).

The Witch’s task sets the entire plot in motion, affecting the other characters’ wishes, even the young Little Red Riding Hood and Jack, who wish to be able to take care of themselves. Jack wants to live without care or responsibility, and Red Riding Hood wants to live without fearing the Big Bad Wolf (played perfectly, creepily by Johnny Depp).

The story was originally created and performed for the stage, where you could see the different characters and plots intersecting and affecting one another in a single layout. For the movie, director Rob Marshall elected instead to keep the stories separate and cut from scene to scene quickly, trying to create a uniformed experience.

While each character was on their own mission, all of a sudden we would see them bizarrely close to crossing paths in the woods, and yet somehow unaware of each other. Instead of creating a holistic viewing, the effect is disjointed and confounding. I was left wondering why all these people couldn’t just look up long enough to see everyone else in their path.

Despite a confusing cinematography, the actors weave and work well together. Meryl Streep, as always, gives her all to meld into her character: in this instance, she becomes a profoundly eccentric witch that serves as the unlikely moral backbone of the movie. Chris Pine plays the vapid Prince, sublimely — though the entire movie is a comedy, the highest comic relief comes from his wallowing ode as to why any girl wouldn’t want to fall at their feet to be his wife. The breakout star, surprisingly, was James Corden as the Baker. He performed flawlessly  both at singing and as the uncertain father-to-be. While most of the characters seemed disjointed and at times awkward together, Corden was able to keep the story moving.

Overall the movie, like its characters, falls victim to its own self-indulgence and short-sightedness. It attempts to address several larger themes, such as how to have a happy family or knowing yourself well enough to know what you want, but instead pays more attention to the pomp and circumstance of making a fairytale musical. The intention of “Into the Woods” was as veiled as a glass slipper, although decidedly less beautiful in reality.

NOT RECOMMENDED: While there are some seriously funny parts, the movie as a whole is disappointing. Wait for the DVD or Netflix.