Movie review: ‘Into the Woods’ is dark and deep
By Ed Symkus
More Content Now
Before getting into why “Into the Woods” is so good (and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t like musicals), I’d like to issue complaints about a certain watchdog group and the company that made the film, and a warning to anyone planning a family outing to see it.
The Motion Picture Association of America, that secret group of moms with kids between the ages of 5 and 17, who assign ratings to movies, and regularly hand out PG-13s to films with violence, but slap Rs on films with sex, have really proven their irrelevance this time by irresponsibly giving “Into the Woods” a PG rating. On to the film company. The folks at Disney have made an extremely misleading trailer for “Into the Woods,” trying to pass it off as a comedy (which is also how it’s listed on the Internet Movie Data Base). And, finally, the warning, which neatly ties all of this together.
“Into the Woods” is an excellent film, adapted of course, from the smash Broadway musical, with witty songs, an imaginative presentation of familiar Grimm fairy tales, along with one original story, some fine acting and singing, and both makeup and production design that’s Oscar worthy.
But it is NOT a kids’ film. I’m no prude, and I honestly believe the MPAA often overdoes it in “protecting” young viewers, but if parents are going to use that group as a guide, they need to know how irresponsible the MPAA is for not giving this film a PG-13.
Yes, the first half of the film is a somewhat straightforward musical telling of fairy tales that we all know. Say hello to Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood and Jack (of beanstalk fame), and Rapunzel. We get all of their stories, but we also get a very different one, the tale of a baker and his wife who, because of a witch’s curse, aren’t able to have children, unless they procure for the witch a white cow (Jack has one), a red cape (Red is wearing one), a gold slipper (yeah, I know, Cinderella’s shoe was made of glass; just deal with it), and some yellow hair (look, up in the tower, it’s Rapunzel).
But aside from the happy-sounding songs, that are actually full of yearning, the baker and his wife are presented as a desperate couple who will do anything – including deceiving and stealing – to get those objects, give them to the witch, and have the curse reversed. There’s also a different sort of sinister stuff going on. Johnny Depp’s cameo as the Wolf comes across as creepy (no problem there, as fairy tales can certainly be creepy) but also as lascivious. There’s something unsettling about his initial meeting with Red Riding Hood, during which he addresses her, hungrily (read that however you’d like) as “Miss Plump.”
Yet, with everything looking like it’s going to go wrong, the stories all end up with happy endings ... at approximately the film’s halfway point. It’s then that the mood of the proceedings goes dark. It’s then that the characters’ actions head into a downward spin.
Themes of infidelity and death are introduced, and though some of this has been lightened up – Disneyfied, if you like – from the stage play, there are things happening in the second half that go way beyond creepy. For some young viewers, certain events will be upsetting. For others, depending on their maturity or immaturity, there’s a potential for a couple of scenes to be traumatizing.
There’s a lot to praise here, but this is a film that’s geared toward adults. I would strongly suggest that if you’re thinking of bringing someone under the age of 9 or 10, you should see it first, then decide if it’s appropriate. Sorry to put a damper on this. Just doing my job.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
INTO THE WOODS
Written by James Lapine (with songs by Lapine and Stephen Sondheim); directed by Rob Marshall
With Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, Lilla Crawford, Chris Pine, Johnny Depp