What happens 'Into the Woods' should stay 'Into the Woods'
Disney’s Into the Woods is a good film. The actors do a good job. The effects are top notch, and there isn’t anything technically wrong with it, except I didn’t like it.
Into the Woods is adapted from a musical. I have never seen the musical, but it does bring up the first problem I had with the film. All of the music sounds the same. There isn’t very much variation, so it sounds like the song just progresses from scene to scene running throughout the film and through the credits. You may be humming the tune when you leave the theater, but it will be a sad, depressing tune lacking any character or associated words. The best song in the film, and the one that stands out for the performances of Chris Pine and his fellow prince, Billy Magnussen is the surprisingly upbeat “Agony.” Other than that, the princes play out like every other Disney prince ever conceived – cardboard cutouts waiting to rescue a princess – though these princes are a little more spoiled.
Meryl Streep delivers a great performance, including the show stopping number at the end, which was more show stopping for Streep’s presence and the special effects involved in it. Johnny Depp is back to being his best acting self as the wolf. The quirk in the character is just enough to wish that the Red Riding Hood tale had been rewritten – not that Depp could have made this film more enjoyable.
Lucy Punch gets typecast as the wicked stepsister. I don’t know why she continues to get those roles; she does them well enough, but she should be able to play the lead, the good sister or something other than her Ella Enchanted incarnation. She is far too talented and beautiful to be typecast. (She probably doesn’t mind too much. Most actors think that villains are better to play, and the jobs pay the bills.) Punch wasn’t the only actor typecast. Frances de la Tour got the call to play a giant again. Most people will remember her as the giant and headmistress of Beauxbatons from Harry Potter.
The rest of the film plays as a disjointed story while it tries to mix in several different fairy tales, but these aren’t your Uncle Walt’s fairy tales. Instead, these are the brutally, Grimm fairy tales that even while most of the gruesome action happens off-camera, it just isn’t far enough off camera. Losing body parts is just part of a good come-uppance story from the pre 20th century. The middle of the tale doesn’t deliver the justice you want, but it delivers the justice you deserve.
Leave the theater thinking about the implications of the film, and you will realize that its messages were muddied, muddled and delivered in such a way as to have sabotage what should have been the real message – any of the real messages. Once the main characters realize the fallacy of their assumptions, they continue with their plan without actually considering the implications of what they had just learned in the previous song.
The strongest message may have been that it is preferable to settle for mediocre rather than reach for your dreams. That doesn’t create a happy ending. It creates an ending indulgent in meh and redolent with the miasma of trying to please the feminists and the masses – ultimately satisfying neither. Unless the message is life sucks and so do people, then Into the Woods succeeds wildly.