It’s fitting that Into the Woods begins with its main characters wishing, because I spent most of this movie wishing it were better.
Into the Woods is a Disney adaptation of the award-winning Stephen Sondheim musical of the same name. It follows familiar fairytale characters: Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), and Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), along with original characters the baker and his wife (James Corden and Emily Blunt) as they all journey “into the woods” to change their lives for better or worse.
Fairy tales are currently a big trend in Hollywood, with remakes and adaptations being made every year. I’m not a big fan of this trend because most of these movies are less a reimagining and more a repackaging of these classic stories. I was hoping Into the Woods would offer something different but it ended up being more of the same.
Most of the characters in this movie are given a perfunctory retelling of their stories, but this failed to grab my interest because I’ve seen these stories told the exact same way numerous times over the years.
The film’s biggest success is when it does something new with the character of Prince Charming (hilariously played by Chris Pine). He’s a complete deconstruction of the Prince Charming in fairy tales and film. Instead of being a bland, stalwart do-gooder, Into the Woods’ Prince Charming is self-involved, sleazy and unfaithful. The showstopper “Agony,” performed by Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen (who plays Rapunzel’s Prince) is the highlight of the film because their behavior is so far removed from what audiences expect from fairytale princes. It’s incredibly entertaining to watch but it doesn’t seem to fit with the mostly sincere musical numbers that populate the movie.
Into the Woods’ tone is all over the place. It’s constantly swinging between being a self-referential send-up of fairy tales and a straightforward telling. Characters go from being largely comedic to being relied on solely for dramatic lifting. Scenes will go from being tongue-in-cheek to deathly serious, which made it difficult to know what reaction is most appropriate.
Despite all this negativity, Into the Woods isn’t a bad film. It looks gorgeous and boasts some great performances, most notably from Chris Pine and Meryl Streep (as The Witch), but it could’ve been more than “not bad.” Into the Woods had the potential to be great but it struggled to get past average. I wanted to leave the theater ready to see it again, but I left with the desire to see the play instead.