Speculative Fiction Saturday: Into The Woods

Into the WoodsI believe that this would be the first time that I reviewed a musical, unless you count Frozen. In this case, this would be a musical in a fairy-tale setting, and it is no surprise that it is from Disney.

Into The Woods is probably the first live-action musical that I have reviewed, and I’ll start out by saying a few words about musicals in general. Some people just love musicals, and gobble them up like I like to watch speculative fiction films. I went to a church where we had a musical production every Easter, and I have to say that they are not easy to write. I’ve seen musicals where songs are shoehorned in often interrupt the story, and Into The Woods does this, a lot.

Perhaps one of the reasons Into The Woods doesn’t work is that it is a musical play adapted into a film. There have been a lot of plays that have been adapted into films, and many of them, like Fiddler on the Roof, The Sound of Music, and West Side Story have been declared classics. One of the reasons why that works is a play is limited by what you can put on stage, but a film is only limited by what you can…film. I found it strange that even though this is a big-budget Disney film with big stars, it felt so muted.

First of all, this is a film that takes fairy tales and puts a new twist to them. Right away, that should be a red flag as Disney has been doing that for decades, practically almost a century. Then Dreamworks did more twisting of fairy tales with Shrek. And hey, doesn’t Disney have that Once Upon a Time show where they blend all fairy tales together? Yeah, Disney isn’t really trending into any new territory here, which is the film’s biggest problem.

I will have to say that this film embraces the darker sides of Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, and Rapunzel. There is another plotline involving a witch played by Meryl Streep who has been made ugly, and this curse is also affecting a couple who are wanting to have children. The couple needs four items to break the spell including Cinderella’s slipper, Rapunzel’s hair, Jack’s cow, and a Red Hood.

This film starts out with a huge song that doesn’t quit. I swear it goes on for a while, and it really becomes hard to figure out what is going on here. At first I thought this could work, but I was surprised at the dark turns of this story.

For example, there is a scene where the Big Bad Wolf goes to Red Riding Hood and stares at her and looks like a pedophile. It is bad enough that Johnny Depp looks like he is in an all-dog cast version of Cats, but this is just hideous. There is a scene where someone rips Red Riding Hood’s cloak off of her, and without the context, this seems pretty…weird.

Then there is the famous scene where Cinderella’s sisters have to chop off part of their feet to fit into that famous slipper. Yeah, that was so cute in Disney’s animated version, and it is truer to the source material.

What is weird about the film is what a lot of people have pointed out, and that it ends in the middle. At least it seems that all four plotlines intersect and end happily, but then, just from out of nowhere, conflict begins again. Then there are parts in the fairy tales that aren’t shown like Jack in the giant’s castle, and Cinderella’s ball isn’t shown, just Cinderella running away from it.

In short, Into The Woods tells too much story and yet shows not enough story all at the same time. As a play, I’m guessing the music was pretty wonderful and there are a lot of plays that are big on style and low on substance. It works on Broadway, but not on film, and this is why Into The Woods was not good. I wonder what would have made this good, and I’m not sure.

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