As I see it, there are two kinds of musicals; one driven by story and themes, the other by music and presentation. “Into the Woods” falls under the second umbrella in all the worst ways imaginable. Not since Michael Bay’s latest pile of “Transformers” garbage have I been this deceived by a film, and not since “Enchanted” have I felt so emotionally dry when the credits started rolling.
The film is a modern twist on the beloved Brothers Grimm fairy tales in a musical format that follows the classic tales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel – all tied together by an original story involving a baker and his wife, their wish to begin a family and their interaction with the witch who has put a curse on them.
I don’t know how, but somehow they managed to not only derail an intriguing idea – they also completely ruined all the classic fairytales in the process. Just take a closer look at the plot synopsis above, and you’ll get a good sense of what this entire movie is; an incoherent mess with loosely constructed plot-points strewn all throughout it. A cow must be sold. A golden egg must be found. A princess is on the run from her true love. It has so much going on at once, yet absolutely nothing happens. The whole thing can essentially be boiled down to a string of contrived events, that brings together timeless folklore, only to have the characters go into a wood and meet one another in the most unoriginal ways.
For anyone who has any knowledge of the musical that the film is based on, this will make you slap yourself across the face. The self-referential, subversive commentary is almost entirely left out of the equation, and most of the actors don’t even look anything like their imaginary counterparts. Half the time you’re wondering who is who, and when you’re not worrying about that, you constantly have to make an effort not to go out and take a leak, because of how non-saying it all is. I mean, it doesn’t even have the fun and vibrant tonality, or even the colourful playfulness that is so much a part of these universes. I can understand the darker approach to the material, but this is not even close to being that. It’s just murky, muddy and gloomy.
Okay, so I guess some of these complaints can be forgiven if the music is really good, right? The problem is, it’s not. Only two songs are even remotely memorable here, and one of them is the insanely annoying titular piece, that honestly makes me want to scoop my brains out with a spoon, or poke my eyes out with a needle. The worst part, though, is when characters burst into song as they deliver dialogue. In other words, there are songs that are not actually songs, but really just phrases sung with varying pitches, keys and vocal ranges. It shows deep lack of inventiveness, and only underlines the laziness of it all.