Into the Woods is an awful movie. Well, it could just be an awful musical.
The story is set around an unnamed baker (James Cordon) and his wife (Emily Blunt). The baker is sterile because of a curse set by the next door neighbor, a witch (Meryl Streep). To break the curse, the witch sends them into the woods — roll credits! — to collect ingredients in a journey that that sets them across the path of Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) and Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy).
The initial reaction to the movie — like, within the first few seconds of it starting — is, “stop fucking narrating.” The baker’s awful, completely redundant narration is woven intrusively into the first song, and he continues to narrate throughout the film and it continues to be awful and annoying and useless because anyone can see what’s going on. But that’s exactly how the song goes in the stage production.
There are a whole lot of reasons to be uncomfortable with this movie as a message-sending medium to children, especially since it was altered significantly to be more family friendly and serve that role.
The play does a clever job of pushing the iconic fairy tale sequences — the ball, Jack’s adventures in the clouds — off to the side, deliberately understating them to focus on original content. But the “being sexy is more important than being more than a lamp post” moral of Cinderella is still prominent and is underscored by the witch’s storyline — her entire motivation is to become beautiful again.
Additionally, Prince Charming’s (Chris Pine) hunting through the entire kingdom to find a woman he apparently can’t recognize by face is incredibly creepy, and Into the Woods exacerbates that by having him trap Cinderella in tar as she tries to flee the ball. Cinderella writes this off as “because he cares.”
Play writer Stephen Sondheim, who who does not share writing credit on the movie with co-writer James Lapine, said Disney made the Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Depp) less overtly sexual, but they did absolutely no such thing. The wolf is incredibly pervy, and the film as a whole would be much more comfortable if Little Red Riding Hood were at least an adolescent.
The witch, who doubles as Rapunzel’s mother and captor, gets a scene to lament her daughter not listening to her. Because she imprisoned her in a giant tower.
Most of the film’s problems stem from its source material, but it’s an adaptation’s job to make the bad and boring parts of the source material good and interesting, and this doesn’t do it at all.
They could have made the baker’s narration more insightful or overlaid it onto shots that don’t show exactly what he’s saying. They could have made the Big Bad Wolf a less obvious pedophile, or made his pedophilia seem less innocent. They could have had someone, anyone explain to Cinderella how unacceptable Charming’s behavior toward her is throughout the movie.
When something with this much stalking and everyday predatory behavior is aimed specifically at children, bad guys need to be bad and good guys need to be good. Characters are eventually punished — Cinderella breaks up with Charming, though only after he cheats on her so the stalking and trapping is still OK — but the wolf, this obvious predator, is funny and inviting and has the excuse of being a literal animal.
Adaptations are an arena to make works of art better. Too often they descend into fan service, but with its tonal and plot changes, Into the Woods doesn’t even do that well.
Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Habanero peppers are the only peppers. I’ve had a change of heart about reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter when I can be bothered to make one, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.