Weave together the stories of Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Little Red Riding Hood, and you have the makings of the plot for Into the Woods. The Stephen Sondheim musical was adapted for the big screen in this mostly successful and fun-to-watch film.
There are no missteps in this large ensemble cast. Meryl Streep plays the role of the witch with relish, while Johnny Depp brings his trademark comic weirdness to the role of the Wolf. Chris Pine is hilarious as one of the two princes comparing the misery of their love as they sing “Agony” standing atop a waterfall.
Into the Woods takes the Brothers Grimm stories back to some of their grimmer origins, before they were sanitized for the 20th-century screen. Rather than ending with happily ever after, the show goes on to examine what happens when you get what you wish for and what the consequences are if you are willing to do anything to get what you want. Stock characters get backstories; the “evil” witch is somewhat sympathetic, and the “heroes” take on shades and shadows.
Parents may be cautious about taking younger children to see this film; even though it is based on fairy tales, it gets dark in a few places that might be more than the 10-and-under set might be ready for. Characters end up blinded, and Cinderella’s stepmother takes a knife to the stepsisters’ feet in an attempt to fit them into the shoe. The wolf is definitely bad—and creepy. These gruesome moments all mesh with earlier versions of the tales, and they are handled in a mostly comic manner, but little ones expecting Disney’s more saccharine tellings may be traumatized.
The just-over-two-hour runtime is a bit excessive, and there are a few moments that drag. But for the most part, smart, lively music and a setting that allows viewers to feel they are watching a very large stage make the musical come alive. It’s a fun romp with some moral subtleties for the fairy-tale fan. (Disney)