Reviewed by: Alexander Malsan
Johnny Depp … The Wolf
Anna Kendrick … Cinderella
Emily Blunt … The Baker's Wife
Chris Pine … Cinderella's Prince
Meryl Streep … The Witch
Lucy Punch … Lucinda
Christine Baranski … Cinderella's Stepmother
James Corden … The Baker
Mackenzie Mauzy … Rapunzel
Tracey Ullman … Jack's Mother
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|Director||Rob Marshall—“Chicago,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Cinderella” (TV movie)|
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.
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.