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Oscar®Oscar® Nominee for Best Actress in a supporting role (Meryl Streep), Costume design, Production design

Movie Review

Into the Woods

MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material.

Reviewed by: Alexander Malsan
CONTRIBUTOR

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults Teens (not for kids)
Genre:
Music Dark-Comedy Fantasy
Length:
2 hr. 4 min.
Year of Release:
2014
USA Release:
December 25, 2014 (wide—2,200+ theaters)
January 2, 2015 (2,538)
January 9, 2015 (2,833)
DVD: March 24, 2015
Copyright, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Copyright, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Copyright, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Copyright, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Copyright, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Copyright, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Copyright, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Copyright, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Copyright, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

actions have consequences and sometimes dangerous repercussions

lies and deception

a world without hope vs. a world with love, hope, peace and joy

What is bad about taking revenge?

fantasy witches vs. witches in the Bible

wolves in the Bible

Featuring: Johnny DeppThe Wolf
Anna KendrickCinderella
Emily BluntThe Baker's Wife
Chris PineCinderella's Prince
Meryl StreepThe Witch
Lucy Punch … Lucinda
Christine Baranski … Cinderella's Stepmother
James Corden … The Baker
Mackenzie Mauzy … Rapunzel
Tracey Ullman … Jack's Mother
more »
Director: Rob Marshall—“Chicago,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Cinderella” (TV movie)
Producer: Lucamar Productions
Marc Platt Productions
Walt Disney Pictures
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

“Be careful what you wish for”

Once upon a time there was a Baker and his wife. They earnestly hope to someday have a child of their own. As they are lamenting, a witch suddenly appears! She tells them of an event between her and the Baker’s father. You see, his father stole some magic beans from the witch’s garden. So how did the witch get revenge? By placing a curse on his family and future generations so that the Baker would never be a father… ever.

The witch tells the Baker that she can reverse the curse if, and only if, in 3 days time he brings her “the cow as white as milk, the slipper as pure as gold, the hair as yellow as corn, and the cape as red as blood.”

Meanwhile, Cinderella dreams of a life away from her evil step-mother and step—sisters. She desperately wishes to go the King’s festival, but her stepmother says no. Cinderella later goes to her mother’s burial ground covered by a large willow tree and asks the tree for a wish.

Still in another part of the town, we are introduced to Jack and his mother, who are in serious financial trouble. Mother tells him he must go and sell his best friend, a cow, for 5 pounds. Of course, he mistakenly sells his cow for magic beans, instead.

Add some giants, a girl in a red cape, and a nasty wolf, and what you get are these unlikely people coming together for a story as deep and confusing as the woods themselves.

Once upon a time there was a man named James Lapine. Mr. Lapine wrote a story entitled “Into the Woods.” It was a story about a Baker and his wife and their interactions with familiar fairytale creatures in order to reverse a curse. In the late 1980s, Stephen Sondheim caught interest in the story and decided that he himself wanted a part of this. So Mr. Sondheim and Mr. Lapine sat down together and determined how they were going to turn this idea into a great musical. “Into the Woods” the musical officially premiered at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, California in 1986. The show ran over 50 performances and became such a success that in the following year “Into the Woods” made its debut on Broadway at the Martin Beck Theatre on November 5, 1987, providing 750 performances before the show closed.

Almost 30 years later, “Into the Woods” still remains one of the most sought after and treasured musicals Sondheim ever produced, having been reproduced countless times on tour, local community theater productions, in the United States and abroad.

Surprisingly, there are people who have never heard of “Into the Woods” before. Many years ago, I was able to participate in a local community theater production of “Into the Woods.” I had never heard of the musical either but figured it would be a fun production. At first, I didn’t understand or grasp the beauty and complexity of the musical, which uses four separate characters, each with their own stories, ending up having to interact with each other, working together to save their beloved world. It was a somewhat dark musical, but not anywhere near as dark as musicals like “Jekyll and Hyde” or “Sweeney Todd.”

When I heard Disney was collaborating with Mr. Sondheim to adapt “Into the Woods” into a movie, I was somewhat skeptical. Could they capture the essence the musical offered? Could they maintain the depth and richness that made “Into the Woods” the success it was on Broadway?

I rather enjoyed the changes Sondheim made in his collaboration with Disney. As a musician, my fear was they would “mess” with the original score. For the most part, they didn’t. My only disappointment with the music is that one main character and one major song from the original musical were cut in this film.

There are many good performances. In the stage musical, the Baker is the star. While James Corden does a good job in this role, as does Emily Blunt as his wife, the person I am most impressed with is Meryl Streep as the witch. What a voice, what an actress! I’m not sure what she did exactly, but she changed her portrayal of the witch for the better, not worse. From what I heard, Sondheim actually approached Meryl Streep and pleaded with her to play the part. He wasn’t wrong in his decision. She nailed the role. She is shrewd, uncaring, selfish, nasty, but all in a different way. She was born for this role, and there is a reason she is a three-time Academy Award winner. Brava!

Cinematically, this movie is spot on. The story, while changed in some parts, stays relatively true to the original. The scenery is appropriately dark and eerie. The camera work is impressive, making one feel as though you were in the theater watching the original production.

To make the film more kid-friendly, parts of the original musical were cut. There is still some material to point out.

Violence: A mother slaps her son in the head several times for his disobedience. A girl stomps on a thief’s foot. Grandma and Red are eaten by the Wolf and later the Baker is shown cutting open the wolf to free them. (The implied action is done off screen.) In one scene, a man tries to silence a woman for provoking one of the Giants by knocking her in the head with his staff. In order to get stepsisters’ feet to fit in the Cinderella slipper, the Stepmother has their heel and toe cut off. And the stepmother and stepsisters are later blinded by birds as consequence of their treatment of Cinderella. Three characters are also killed (off screen) in this story.

Language: Some have stated the Wolf’s encounter with Little Red Riding Hood has some sexual themes behind it. I did not sense this in the film, and Sondheim himself stated in an interview that he and Disney made sure this was not the case. Others may disagree, so caution might be necessary. Profanity includes “God” (1) and the phrase O.M.G. (2). Plus the word “breasts” is used.

Sex: Cinderella’s Prince intentionally cheats on Cinderella with the Baker’s wife, and he kisses the wife for an extended period (the Baker’s wife also cheats on the Baker). Some female characters are seen wearing revealing outfits.

The Tone/Other Content of Concern: “Into the Woods” has been categorized as a dark musical. It deals in the fantasy magical arts of witchcraft, but not to the extent of films like the Harry Potter series. It is also important to note that characters like the Wolf and the Giants may be frightening for some younger children. Parents should use caution before deciding to take the family to see the film.

Spiritual Issues

Toward the end of the musical, Jack, the Baker, Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood have a deep conversation about never being alone. Cinderella sings:

“…No one is alone. Truly, no one is alone. Sometimes people leave you halfway through the wood. Others may deceive you. You decide what’s good. You decide alone. But no one is alone.” [Lyrics provided by Metro Lyrics for the song “No One Is Alone”]

I couldn’t help but be reminded about how those who love and follow God are not alone. Someone IS on our side and that someone is God. But unlike people, God will never leave nor forsake us halfway through the woods. He will always be there to guide us, strengthen us, pick us up when we fall and tell us to press on. The world is large, dangerous and enticing. But when God is on our side, we need not fear the world. We will never stand alone. As Moses once said to the Israelites:

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” —Deuteronomy 31:6

As I left the theater, my father and I spoke about the film during the ride home. We both agreed that while there were elements the film left out from the original musical, the movie is still a worthy adaptation and the heart of that original show is still there. I applaud Disney and especially Mr. Sondheim for NOT changing the musical to the point where it was unrecognizable. With some caution, I think this fairytale is okay for families with children ages 12 and up.

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: Moderate

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive
Positive—What a wonderful surprise of a movie with some very profound and thought provoking themes mixed with some silliness, as well as the dark truth of fairy tales. The woods is representative of the world and life that often has its missteps as sin and self can take us down the path we think is best. Just when we think children are not listening, we see the reality that we are painting a picture that speaks a thousand words, and they are listening! Are we living for self or cooperatively in love that is only grounded by the fact that we were created to love others as God first loved us?

When our children head out into the world, which yes, can be dark and full of deception, what have we equipped them with? They are truly not alone if we have planted the seeds of Christ’s love, hope, peace and joy.

Are we looking to place blame on others, as one song so humorously depicts? I’m looking forward to revisiting the words to some of these songs. While it is not for young children I do consider this a film that can be enjoyed and discussed by families for days to follow.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Lisa, age 48 (USA)
Positive—I thought the movie was really well done, but it isn’t for everyone. I’ve seen the stage show of “Into the Woods,” and so I already knew basically what to expect. Yes, there’s a lot of singing, and while I think the music is brilliant, there is a lot of sung speech, which some find tedious and hard to follow.

Also, half of the film is spent exploring what happens after “happily ever after,” so, if you want a movie that ties up everything nice and neat, this isn’t the movie for you.

I thought the acting, singing and cinematography was well-done, and I like the depth the characters have (minus Johnny Depp, but he’s there for all of 5 minutes).

POSITIVE MESSAGES:
• your wishes may not be all they’re cracked up to be. The grass is often greener on the other side until you actually get there. more »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Willow, age 23 (USA)
Positive—Excellent adaptation of a basically dark musical. The world is a place of trial and obstacles that are painful. For every action, personal agency, one is not free of the consequences. I think the part left out about Rapunzel going crazy was unfortunate, because that was also important to today’s women who are not always ready for the responsibility of motherhood.

I would not take sensitive children to see the movie, as a curious child will understand that the Baker’s wife was led astray and the “Charming Prince” is definitely not noble, but selfish, and could be disturbed by their actions. Many wrongs were committed that had consequences. This is a great musical for discussion.

The music is fantastic and heart wrenching but not for one who just seeks light hearted musical entertainment. Consider this a piece of art for discussion. Great for older school classes. At least 12 or older. When I say Excellent I mean for a certain age group and thinking person, not G rated.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Julie Luschin, age 61 (USA)
Positive—I am a Christian, and so are the two women with whom I saw the film (age 57 and 30). I have personally not seen any production of the musical, nor was I extremely familiar with the story, although I did read about it before deciding to see it. My companions have seen various productions of it and knew what to expect. I truly liked it. I think about it often, especially when I listen to the opening song. It is evident that the characters are all desiring various things, so much so that they “wish—more than anything-more than life” to obtain them.

The more I ponder it, I see so many similarities to this fable and the book of Ecclesiastes. We all long for things, to different degrees. Often the things we desire are not good for us. Even if they are, we can pursue them to evil degrees. Hopefully, we learn, do not destroy ourselves (as some do in this story) and grow to understand that love, relationships and serving God are our ultimate purposes.

This movie is a morality play. It mashes up Grimm’s fairy tales (which are dark, that is just the reality) with Disney retelling of them, is glitzy and full of very witty and thought-provoking lyrics and music. I plan to see it again.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Lori, age 55 (USA)
Neutral
Neutral—The many good qualities of this movie are dragged down by its casual attitude to people being maimed or blinded, and the infidelity of the leading characters. I would not recommend it for children under 14.
My Ratings: Moral rating: __ / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Brian Schacht, age 68 (Canada)

Negative
Negative—I somewhat enjoyed this movie for the first half, though I did see some thinly-veiled innuendo between the wolf and Red Riding Hood. And then it tumbled into a cesspool. I think many of the negative reviews sum it up nicely. I mean, really. WE decide what’s right and wrong? Oh good. I can go steal and murder and rape, and it’s all good because I think it’s all right. Hey, I decide, right? Nobody’s opinion is more valuable than mine, so I can do what I want and no one should be able to tell me otherwise. Might as well kill a giant right after talking about forgiveness and pointing out she’s a person, too. How is that ok?

This movie depressed me. The prince and the Baker’s wife’s affair seemed to come out of left field. I thought maybe somehow the wolf was inhabiting his body because his character had completely changed. Maybe that was their point, people being different than they appear. more »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: ½
—Amy Unruh, age 39 (USA)
Negative—I attended the movie with my 12 year old daughter. We both found it appalling. The messages sent to children are terrible. I felt like the wolf was much more interested in child molestation than eating the child. Two mothers were killed—keeping form to most Disney cartoons—one of which lived long enough to cheat on her husband by passionately kissing the prince, who just married Cinderella. All of this just after having a baby.

To help Little Red in deciding a moral dilemma, a song is sung to her and Jack from the beanstalk, who just lost his mother, giving them advice, since their mothers are no longer there, they can decide what’s right or wrong and what’s good and bad. more »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Leah, age 34 (USA)
Negative—A boring, thinly-veiled attempt to bring Hollywood’s dark reality into another crevice of our lives. Shrill, boring and predictable. Both the trailer and big-name-dropping for the movie’s advertising are misleading. Not a family movie, just over-hyped worldview we’ve all seen before
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 2½
—Janet, age 41 (USA)
Negative—The most well-made bad movie I’ve ever seen. This movie was a huge disappointment. It was more opera than musical, more boring than fun, more sad than happy, and it had a world view that left me shaking my head: “You decide what’s right”. Bleck. Could have been great, based on the premise, but it was a poor movie.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Trina, age 47 (USA)
Negative—I was really looking forward to this Rob Marshall/Steven Sondheim production of a movie based on fairytales. How could it possibly go wrong? Well, it does for me, and possibly because of my Christian perspective. The movie starts out with the well-known content of four popular fairy tales—Rapunzel, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood—but it quickly spirals away from the fairytale stories that we all know and enjoy, which have a happily ever after ending, and instead, becomes a dark and brooding movie where everything that can go wrong does go wrong, with people killed in most unexpected ways.

The cinematography and lighting are inadequate, creating a dark, dank, gloomy setting with no relief. The scenes set in sunlight, in the outdoors, do not actually bring about daylight colors. Everything remains subdued, as in a constant dark forest. The stories stray very far away from the original fairytales. For example, and spoiler alert, the prince cheats on Cinderella with the baker’s wife and Cinderella leaves the prince for a simpler life! All the hope that imbues fairy tales where wishes come true and everything turns out well is completely gone, replaced by a cynical world view.

At the end, there is a line that states: wishes are not free. The audience was mostly adult, which is good, since there are frightening and negative moments that would scare a child. I found the action slow, the script very boring and not at all cute and innovative. I doggedly stayed to the bitter end, just to make sure I saw the whole picture show. I was surprised that a small group of adults laughed at some of the presumed clever remaking of fairytale lines, and these same adults applauded at the end of the movie. Maybe they were applauding the music and singing, which were good. I neither laughed nor applauded.

I do not recommend this movie with its miserable world view devoid of hope to Christians. And this is not at all a movie for children.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3½
Halyna Barannik, age 68 (USA)
Negative—To me this movie contained not one but two pedophile innuendos. One was with the wolf scene and the other is with Jack talking about the mother giant. This is not a family movie. I do not suggest any age children going to see this. I think it should be rated X not PG or R. I did laugh at some of the scenes, but I don’t think any child would.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Rebecca Wood, age 46 (USA)
Negative—Cinematically, this movie is spot on dull and dreary. I’m getting tired of the Hollywood films purposely looking under-exposed and washed out. This is getting depressing and boring. Not even moments of brightness.

The reviewer said: “Toward the end of the musical, Jack, the Baker, Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood have a deep conversation about never being alone. Cinderella sings: “…No one is alone. Truly, no one is alone.” HOLD IT! Please… HOLD it. Without Christ you ARE alone in this world.

The reviewer said, “I couldn’t help but be reminded about how those who love and follow God are not alone. HOLD IT AGAIN. That was not the intent of the movie or the writers of this film. The writers are saying you’re never alone; leaving the God part out. That was not their intent of the movie; that with God you’re never alone. There intent is you don’t even think about God; you’re just never alone. Hog Wash!! That is a typical Disney/Hollywood godless message fairytale.

Oh… yes… all of us reviewers forgot to say anything about the affair the wife had with the golden prince, who was not her husband. …not only was the movie too dark and depressing looking, there was the unfaithful wife passionately kissing the prince who is not her husband. This movie is not for kids. My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Robert Garcia, age 67 (USA)
Negative—The wolf sounds like a pedophilel and Prince charming is now a cheater. No morals, for being a Disney movie.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Crystal, age 54 (USA)
Negative—…One of the characters, played by Johnny Depp, goes on and on in song about what he would like to do to a little girl (Red Riding Hood). Pedophilia is not “morally average,” and such a rating will lure unsuspecting viewers into the theater. Later, a woman who was ostensibly deeply in love (the baker’s wife, played by Emily Blunt) with her husband, casually starts making out with another man, the prince (who is supposedly smitten with Cinderella). The movie had spent considerable time building up the fact that the baker’s wife and the baker were totally devoted to one another, and also to having a child. Then, on a moment’s notice, she, appropos of nothing, starts kissing and canoodling with the prince. This is done at least twice. I’m not sure if it happened more times than that, as we left when the movie returned to the two of them making out more seriously.

Hollywood is trying to teach us and our children that committed relationships are nothing special, and that it doesn’t matter if you commit adultery or have perverted proclivities. …The movie, though it doesn’t start out that way, is, in the final analysis, extremely offensive. more »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Alex, age 39 (USA)
Negative—I find the movie was very poorly done. Why couldn't there be a happy end when everyone found what they were looking for, why go back into the woods, and why did Cinderella’s prince have to kiss a married maiden. The movie was coming on nicely up until the time they went back into the woods. What examples are we showing our kids? I did not like the immorality. My daughter was very disappointed when she looked at it. Disney must screen those movies before showing them on screen. Shame on the director. Was he promoting adultery?
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 1
—Vanessa Jeremiah, age 38 (Dominica)
Negative—Besides being extremely boring, the movie lacked any moral compass, or any compass at all. It wandered aimlessly, steering no course. I had not idea it was a musical (sorry husband) and literally was simply a vehicle to show off the actor’s singing ability. The songs were ridiculous and the message even worse. “You decide for yourself what’s right, what’s wrong.”

The one message of forgiveness had more to do with not judging anyone’s behavior, because we all make terrible mistakes, than it did with forgiving repentance. Repentance means you understand the mistake was wrong in nature, not just wrong because all people make oopsies. There was no ultimate right or wrong. In fact, the children stole repeatedly and that was forgivable, but the giant’s wife who came down the beanstalk to seek justice for the items stolen from her home and the fact that her husband was murdered, was cast as the villain, whereas the behavior from the humans (adultery, repeated theft, abandonment of one’s children) was all forgivable without any remorse. more »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Karen, age 49 (USA)
Negative—Besides being extremely boring, the movie lacked any moral compass, or any compass at all. It wandered aimlessly, steering no course. I had no idea it was a musical (sorry husband) and literally was simply a vehicle to show off the actor’s singing ability. The songs were ridiculous, and the message even worse. “You decide for yourself what’s right, what’s wrong.”

The one message of forgiveness had more to do with not judging anyone’s behavior, because we all make terrible mistakes, than it did with forgiving repentance. Repentance means you understand the mistake was wrong in nature, not just wrong because all people make oopsies. There was no ultimate right or wrong. In fact, the children stole repeatedly and that was forgivable, but the giant’s wife who came down the beanstalk to seek justice for the items stolen from her home and the fact that her husband was murdered, was cast as the villain, whereas the behavior from the humans (adultery, repeated theft, abandonment of one’s children) was all forgivable without any remorse. more »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Karen, age 49 (USA)
Negative—Poorly done… worst movie ever… not a fan of Monty Python, but would rather torture myself watching one of Monty Python’s cr*p than to watch this again. Disney should be highly ashamed of this musical. I wouldn’t even give it a half star. The acting was poor, the singing from the “Princes” was even worse, and The Big Bad Wolf was offensive… nearly sexually predatory.

I feel I’ve wasted my money and over two hours of my life watching this. Was nothing like what I had expected via movie trailer and reviews.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: ½
—Amy (non-Christian), age 47 (USA)
Comments from young people
Positive—I truly enjoyed “Into the Woods” from start to finish. The story, songs and lyrics, and the cinematography were all at the highest level. As a fan of the Broadway play, I think that this is a faithful adaption, despite the absence of a few songs. As far as spiritual and moral content go, I found that this movie taught many excellent lessons. At many points of the story, the “woods” is metaphorical for life, as the characters sing about their attempts to get through the woods. One character remarks that she “shouldn’t have strayed from the path” and that “nice is different than good”.

The song “No One is Alone” can be used as a reference to God. As far the scene of infidelity goes, it is true that a main character and a supporting character sin. But the main character’s song that follows shows the struggle of her conscious of what she has done (she eventually realizes that she erred). And in the end, her actions seal her fate. Had she not sinned, than her fate would have been far happier.

This movie teaches us to appreciate what we have and to be very careful of how far we are willing to go to get what we desire (among many other lessons). This may very well be one of my favorite movies, and I highly recommend it!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Louis, age 17 (USA)

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