Into the Woods
All roads lead into the woods.
That nearby and thickly treed thatch of gnarled branches and winding paths may not look like much but, well, on a wish and a prayer, everyone seems to be going there for some fresh air. A fresh song. And a fresh outlook.
Young, empty-headed Jack treks through the woods on his mother's command to sell their old cow in the neighboring village. He wishes he could save his dear four-legged friend, Milky White.
Little Red walks the wooded footways wrapped in her long cloak for protection while scarfing down sweets. She wishes to find her way safely to her grandmother's house.
The put-upon stepchild Cinderella rushes into the thickets to visit her mother's grave. Her not-so-secret cinder-smudged wish is to go to the royal ball.
The famously tressed Rapunzel is already tangled up in these woods, locked away in a long-forgotten doorless tower. So I don't think I have to tell you what her wish is.
The humble village Baker and his childless Wife dash into that dark density to satisfy the demands of the Witch. They wish to have a child, you see, and it seems only the Witch can make their dreams come true … after they gather for her "a cow as white as milk, a cloak as red as blood, a slipper as pure as gold, some hair as yellow as corn."
So what happens when wishes collide? Who will live happily ever after? Certainly not the Giant.
The movie's poster sports the slugline, "Be Careful What You Wish For …" And this musical makes sure that warning is repeated and illustrated throughout—convincing us that even wishes you think are good can come with a price tag you don't expect. Cinderella, for instance, longs to meet a handsome prince. But when she does, she quickly realizes that princes aren't necessarily all you dream they'll be. She eventually has to choose to leave her Prince behind after he fails to remain faithful.
The value of fatherhood and good parenting is this musical's next big moral concern. After reaching a very low moment of great loss, the Baker thinks he needs to walk away from it all, even his infant son. But a vision of his dead father—a man who ran away when the Baker was but a boy—convinces him to turn back and stand strong. "Be better than me. Do better," the apparition pleads. And so the Baker does in a rather grand way in the tale's final moments.
And speaking of grand themes thumping home in the final scenes, we hear the poignant song "Children Will Listen." It plays out in part, "Careful the things you say/Children will listen/Careful the things you do/Children will see and learn/Children may not obey, but children will listen/Children will look to you for which way to turn/To learn what to be/Careful before you say, 'Listen to me.'"
The Witch may have made many mistakes, including stealing away a little girl to raise as her own years before, but she rightly communicates a parent's pain and worry over what the passing years bring. She sings, "Princes wait there in the world, it's true/Princes, yes, but wolves and humans, too/Stay at home, I am home/Stay a child while you can be a child, with me."
Other characters sing of the comfort we can find in the people around us after we've suffered great loss. "Still, you're not alone," we hear. "No one is alone, truly, no one is alone."
The film briefly ruminates on the idea that life isn't always right or wrong, good or bad, blessed or cursed. It's seen that "witches can be right" and "giants can be good." (There's a negative side to this tack, of course, and I'll mention that a bit later.) Little Red worries over the idea of killing the Giant's Wife. "Aren't we to show forgiveness?" she wonders.
The Witch has cursed the Baker and his Wife for the man's father's former wrongdoing. She casts several other wind-swirling spells in the course of pursuing her objectives. She magically brings a dead cow back to life. She concocts a potion in the beast's milk by feeding it those special items the Baker has brought. The potion is a powerful one, making the Witch look young again and instantly giving the Baker's Wife a child.
The woods themselves are enchanted, in a way, changing you when you enter them. Cinderella visits her mother's grave and talks with her spirit. Mom gives Cinderella a new dress and golden slippers to wear. Rapunzel heals her blinded Prince when one of her tears drips down on his mangled eyes. The Baker talks to his dead dad.
When Cinderella's Prince and the Baker's Wife meet in the woods, she is overcome by his handsome face and charming demeanor. Even though the Prince is already married, he begins to seduce the Baker's Wife, telling her, "Right and wrong don't matter in the woods, only feelings." She resists him at first but eventually gives in, and they kiss passionately.
Later, the Wife wrestles with her choices and temptations, wondering, in song, if it would be possible to have "a child for warmth, and a Baker for bread, and a Prince for whatever." Ultimately she rejects that thought and comes to believe that the experience may have made the life she has with the Baker "mean more." But the Prince's only reaction? "I was raised to be charming, not sincere," he says.
Little Red meets a Wolf in the woods who sings that he intends to snare her and eat her. In the process of "wooing" her with treacly sweet words and a coat lined with actual sweets, though, the smarmy gent comes off as something of a child molester. After she and her grandmother are both gobbled up and then rescued, Little Red thinks things through in a song: "He showed me things, many beautiful things/That I hadn't thought to explore/They were off my path, so I never had dared/I had been so careful, I never had cared/And he made me feel excited—well, excited and scared/ … Isn't it nice to know a lot! And a little bit not."
The Witch compares someone stealing her possessions to being raped. The two Princes rip open their shirts in a comically beefcake way as they sing of the lustful "Agony" they feel because of two beautiful girls they can't quite possess. Women reveal cleavage in tight dresses. Cinderella's stepsisters are particularly immodest in their almost steampunk-style gowns, showing off lots of leg as well as they prance and pout and pose. Cinderella and her Prince kiss, as do Rapunzel and hers.
After Little Red and her grandmother are eaten by the Wolf (offscreen), the Baker rushes in and draws his knife to plunge it into the beastie's protruding belly. (The camera, ahem, cuts away before contact.) Several other prominent characters lose their lives as well. One falls off a cliff, another is pushed and hits her head on a stump, still another is hit in the forehead by a slingshot-launched rock, and a fourth crashes to the ground as she's transformed into a pool of bubbling tar.
Cinderella's stepsisters submit to having their feet sliced and disfigured by a sharp knife so they can fit into the golden slipper. (The cutting is, again, out of the camera's view; we see only a single drop of blood on a white glove.) The young ladies are also blinded by a flock of birds called down by Cinderella. For her part, Cinderella is shoved and slapped by her mean stepsisters. A Prince slams into the side of a stone tower and then is thrown from his horse and has his eyes cruelly poked by a thicket of thorns. Jack is slapped upside the head (repeatedly) by his mother.
Crude or Profane Language
One forceful exclamation of "oh my god!"
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
The script's push toward parsing the grays in between the blacks and whites goes a tad too far. We hear this declaration issued as a solution: "You decide what's right/You decide what's good."
The story's mess of misfortunes all begins with a man who stole stuff from a garden.
"Wishes come true, not free."
That's a pithy, level-headed aphorism. And it's ironic, in a way, that Disney—the home of wispy happily-ever-afters and multitudes of wished-upon stars—has lent its name to a musical with that motif woven so tightly into its signature. For Into the Woods makes no bones about telling us just how costly misplaced wishes and dreams can be. Or, in the case of well-placed wishes, how costly it is to pursue them without exercising restraint and caution along the way.
The musical takes it cues from the Brothers Grimm, to be sure. Dark dangers and seductive delights clash and clang throughout. Princes seduce and cheat. Wolves lurk and lure little girls. The good guys fail and fall in sometimes fatal ways.
Yet this is perhaps the most appealingly staged and wonderfully cast piece of musical wisdom you're bound to encounter. As we hear on the song "I Know Things Now," "Even flowers have their dangers/And though scary is exciting/Nice is different than good."
A rendition of Stephen Sondheim's 1987 stage production about tumbled together fairy tales, Into the Woods is whimsical and outlandish, enchanting and thoughtful. By the final curtain it makes it plain that even in a crooked-branch storyland of wicked witches and sumptuous slippers, foolish and selfish behaviors come at a high price. Only hard work and steadfast love, we're told, can heal the heart and set the wrong things of the Woods right once again. Only good examples from parents can help children grow up and do good themselves. Only dads who stick it out can experience the joy their kids can bring.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Anna Kendrick as Cinderella; Meryl Streep as The Witch; James Corden as The Baker; Emily Blunt as The Baker's Wife; Chris Pine as The Prince; Billy Magnussen as The Other Prince; Johnny Depp as The Wolf; MacKenzie Mauzy as Rapunzel; Lilla Crawford ad Little Red; Daniel Huttlestone as Jack
December 25, 2014
March 24, 2015