Into the Woods is an insanely original take on the classic fairy tale. It’s fun and funny, but surprisingly dark. I can’t remember the last time I saw a more enjoyable, unique, engaging production.
Oh, except all of that is a description of Into the Woods the stage play. The movie, though, is a different story.
Into the Woods was not a terrible movie. It had a lot going for it. The entire cast (minus one completely out of place Depp) is spectacular, and it does have the “fun” part going for it. While part of me hates focusing on how the film is inferior to the play, there’s also not much of an alternative. If the movie was able to stand on its own, things would be different. But knowing the source material only makes the film’s failings that much more glaring. It highlights what the movie isn’t because we know exactly what it could be. Whether you’re familiar with the play or not, you’re probably going to leave the theater feeling mildly entertained, but ultimately disappointed. Here are five changes they made that tipped the scales in the wrong direction.
Toploading the first half
The movie cut a full half hour off the run time of the play, but those cuts came almost entirely from the second half. Act one is dedicated to the fairy tales we know. A baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) must gather items in the woods to undo a curse placed on them by an evil witch (Meryl Streep), preventing them from having children. A young girl (Lilla Crawford) travels through the woods to get to her grandmother’s house, but is intercepted by a wolf (Johnny Depp). A boy (Daniel Huttlestone) must take his cow (who also happens to be his friend) to the market to sell. Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) visits a prince’s (Chris Pine) ball three nights in row, and every night she flees. And finally, a young woman (Mackenzie Mauzy) with ridiculously long hair is trapped in a tower, kept there by a doting witch, the same witch who wants her curse on the baker’s family lifted.
Those are the stories we know. Act One is all about the wanting, and Act Two is about the having. That’s where things get interesting. The characters are forced to face the fact that getting what they want isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But because of some changes in the movie version’s sense of chronology, when Act Two starts up, the characters haven’t had time yet to really feel the weight of their choices. They’ve barely had the time to recognize their disappointment. So outside of a few references to their disappointment, mostly from Cinderella, the internal struggle of Act Two is replaced with the external battle against a giant. So sure, Disney gets the cheerier holiday feel they wanted, but overall, this leads to an general blandening of pretty much every character and simplification of every theme. For example, another mistake the film made was…
Cutting the Second “Agony”
The number with Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen (who plays Rapunzel’s prince) trying to out-lovelorn each other is, without question, one of the biggest highlights of the movie. It’s light and ridiculous, just pure fun. Which is what makes the song’s reprise that much more heartbreaking. We see that these these two men were miserable and pining not because they were truly in love, but because wanting unattainable women is in their DNA. Seeing them in Act Two, tired of their brides they fought so hard for, now in agony over two new women (Snow White and Sleeping Beauty), we realize that the entire idea of The Prince is flawed. But by only seeing one prince stray and allowing the other to be a good husband, it is the man who fails, while the ideal itself remains intact.
Casting Red Riding Hood and Jack WAY too young
While I very much love young Jack’s description of the “gweat tall tewibble giants in the skyyyyyy,” these characters lost a huge element of their stories. When played by adults, they’re allowed to explore their sexual awakenings. Red is shown things that made her feel “excited and scared” and Jack reminisces about being held close to a giant woman’s giant breast (or in this case, bweast). Here there are nuances to both those experiences that are clumsily brushed past. Those characters are robbed of their arcs and both turn out far less interesting than they should be.
F*cking with the Baker’s Father
This is the character that probably got messed with the most, and no one and nothing came out better for it. Normally, the Baker’s father doubles as the show’s narrator. Instead, that narration was transferred over to the Baker himself, and also cut to the point of being entirely unnecessary. In the end it felt like a bad Power Point presentation, where we’re being told nothing more than what we’re simultaneously seeing on the screen.
Similarly, the Baker’s father was cut out of the entire script, save for one brief moment in Act Two. What was a beautiful, gut wrenching scene between a man trying to escape the path he sees laid out in his father’s footsteps, featuring what is possibly the best song in the entire play, was reduced to its barest, shakiest bones. What makes this flattening especially sad is that James Corden probably could have killed it in this scene. This was his chance to prove he wasn’t just the comic relief of the movie (though he did play a perfect fool) with some show-stopping emotional depth. He came close in what was left of this scene, but if the song here had been left in place, it had the potential to be a career-making scene.
Not killing *SPOILER*
This point is spoilery in regard to the fate of one character, though it was thoroughly discussed and debated for months before the movie came out, so chances are you’re already spoiled. In the Disneyfication of a rather dark play, a major change to the script was the decision not to kill off Rapunzel. Whether this was done to save confusion around potential Tangled sequels, or simply to keep things relatively light is unclear. What is clear is how this screws things up for a LOT of characters, most notably Meryl Streep’s witch. Meryl kills it (OBVIOUSLY) in Act One, but in the second half, not only do they need to avoid close ups in order to maintain the illusion of her transformation, but her motivation has gone all to sh*t. When her daughter ends up living happily ever after, it’s hard for her to really mourn, isn’t it?
And this is where the entire movie comes up short. In wanting to exchange depth for Disney, it’s impossible for this to be anything more than a flat, shiny nod to its spectacular, complex source.
Vivian Kane has chosen to forget Johnny Depp was even in this movie.