Reviewing movies fresh out on the big screen is great, and I love to do it when I actually find myself in a theater, but that’s few and far between these days. As with the rest of you, I do much more of my film watching at home on my couch, often stopping by that big box that isn’t blue outside the local 7-11. So after the hype and massive onslaught of online commentary that came during the theatrical run of ‘Into the Woods’, it’s finally my turn:
Massive plot holes and unresolved threads aside (and we’ll get to them), I actually ended up enjoying Disney’s ‘Into the Woods’, a movie I was back and forth on while watching. With Meryl Streep getting the only Academy nomination (without winning) this last year, I wasn’t expecting much, and I’ve been a lifelong lover of musicals ever since my dad played us the ‘Les Miserables’ soundtrack on our road trips (and we took a lot of them). I could listen to the ‘Les Mis’ soundtrack every day and be happy, ‘Pitch Perfect’ was decent, ‘High School Musical’, however, was utter trash (don’t tell the rest of the world I said that!)
Now that you know my sliding scale, I’d give ‘Into the Woods’ a solid 8. We all knew Anna Kendrick was going to be adorable and brilliant at the same time, no surprise there. Her “steps on the palace” song was welcome when it came, as I’d been waiting for her to take her turn in the spotlight.
The surprise did come, however, when Emily Blunt ended up stealing the entire movie. After stirring entirely different feelings in me again and again and again with her multiple entrances in ‘Edge of Tomorrow’, Blunt slowly takes on the moral compass and beating heart of ‘Into the Woods’, eventually providing the film’s most emotional and meta-philosophical moments.
‘Into the Woods’ takes a surprising left turn in the second act when Chris Pine (the Prince obsessed with Anna Kendrick’s Cinderella) and The Baker’s Wife (Blunt) share their connection during the song “Any Moment”. Here the underlying tones of love and lust and the utter confusion that comes with those feelings boils over to the surface and we find ourselves questioning (for the first time in the film) just where this story is heading. After all, it wasn’t that long ago Chris Pine was farce-fully tearing his shirt in “Agony” over his runaway princess with her slipper pure of gold.
The feeling of being lost only intensifies as the movie continues, and as such the theme of “into the woods” begins to make more and more sense. Little Red Riding Hood and the Johnny Depp’s Wolf, at first a creepy side note to the story of the Baker and his wife, now begins to snowball into an over-arching thread of finding your way, in a world where we all must, at times, navigate through uncharted and frightening surroundings. It’s no random plot point that after the giantess attacks Red and the others find themselves back in the woods, but with none of the familiar trails they once embarked on. In life, no two journeys are ever the same. And there are always wolves.
The musical does end on a positive note (spoiler alert) as any musical should, with the youthful optimism of Lilla Crawford’s Red and Daniel Huttlestone’s Gavroche…I mean Jack…colliding with the stumbling-along adults of Cinderella and the Baker. This is a culmination of the ideas presented in the first act song, “Giants in the Sky”, the best song of the musical about a child reaching up into the world of adulthood and how scary and amazing that sounds. Sung by Daniel Huttlestone to an adult while climbing around in a giant tree gives this metaphor such visual life it’s impossible to deny the inner child inside while viewing.
Wait. Have I gone this long talking ‘Into the Woods’ with only once briefly mentioning Meryl Streep? What is wrong with me? Maybe it’s because I wasn’t as impressed with her performance, as everyone else seemed to be. Her singing was spot on, her acting was impeccable as always, but her character also revolved around the massive plot holes that bugged me throughout the movie. Namely, when she finally gave in and, during the incredible “Last Midnight”, began her own undoing by throwing more magic beans onto the ground (the loss of her magic beans cursed her to begin with), why didn’t seven more beanstalks sprout up from the ground, since we already know that all it takes is one bean to grow a giant stalk that reaches up into the land of giants?
Furthermore, James Corden’s Baker seemed fairly intent on the fact that he had a sister who had been hidden away from him for all his life. At least he placed importance on it for a split second. Because even though that child, Rapunzel, was featured heavily in the film, the two never once shared the screen together. Any rational human being would want that threat resolved. But I guess maybe they’re saving it for the sequel: ‘Back Into the Woods: Revenge of the Harp’.