Movie Review: 'Into the Woods' (2014)

Walt Disney Pictures

Journeying to a dark place of magic, characters find something tragic. A Baker and his wife try to end their childless strife. Cinderella avoids her pompous fellow, as disastrous glitches plague a witch’s sinister wishes. Now that we have the rhyming portion of this review out of the way, it’s time to delve into Rob Marshall's film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Broadway musical. 

“Into the Woods” is a gloomy affair that fails to staggeringly enchant. From the opening scene we are introduced to the familiar fairytale regulars along with some newly invented characters, who join in on the action. It’s an idea that on paper sounds intriguing.

A take off from the famous characters the Grimm Brothers made bedtime staples, “Into the Woods” presents them in a recognizable enough way to connect with them and a strange enough way to know this is not going to be your typical white knights and tiara tale.

The dreary story it weaves finds few cinematic payoffs as characters wind through the same patch of woods, singing the same old repetitious tunes; the score lingering on without much variation.

Lackluster in its approach, it goes over the top in its tired musicality (singing even when speaking) and there is little in the way of visually stimulating imagery to hold one’s attention. The atmosphere is stark, grimy and the pace; tedious. There is a malevolence that pulses throughout the movie; making most of the characters come across as slightly maniacal.

Others who seem a tad decent are made out to be utter dolts. There are a series of out-of-nowhere plot turns, wherein characters make jarring decisions that have no lead up, coming out of the bewildering blue.

A beyond frustrating recurring sequence of Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) flying down the stairs and fleeing the ball never offers any new beats, instead serving as an annoyingly pointless repeat.

[Image by Disney Pictures]
Characters perish without any explanation and some big plotlines go unresolved, making one wonder why they were revealed in the first place. It all seems rushed towards the end, except there is never any real progress and the transition to the second act is a real head scratcher.

The first half having plodded along at such a tiresome pace, it is easy to assume it is all over, only to be surprised when another hour begins. While most fairy tales have a core message, whatever the lesson in this story is, it was lost on this viewer. In an unsurprising if unfortunate reprise, the archetype of the overprotective parental unit is made out be the biggest villain of all.

The performances vary, Anna Kendrick makes an excellent Cinderella, adeptly mixing the melancholy of a girl-next-door with that of a jaded heroine and her vocals are stunning. Emily Blunt plays the Baker’s wife with a lot of heart and ardent charm; while her vocal performance proves to be another feather in her career cap.

Meryl Streep offers a tender turn that oscillates between various modes, coming off a few shades deeper than some of the other characterizations. Johnny Depp’s fleeting cameo brings a short-lived glimpse of the creepy Mr. Wolf.

As Prince Charming, Chris Pine’s approach to the material is the strangest of the entire film. In a disastrously campy sequence he and “The Other Prince” splash around in a stream, the purpose of this sequence apparently to demonstrate the shallow and vapid nature of fairy tale damsels’ suitors.

If the rest of the cast had shared in Pine’s hokey take, it might not have seemed so odd; only they do not and what viewers are left with is an off kilter performance that sits out all the more.

Uneasy and perpetually mind boggling, "Into the Woods" packs zero laughs and its dull characters make investing in the ride to the finish line, incredibly difficult. Once go “Into the Woods”, all that is left to do is watch the clock, hoping to get out. Rating: 5.4/10

[Featured Image by Disney]