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Today’s film is based on a musical that I had never heard of before much less heard of the songs before. But apparently, it’s a pretty big deal. Although it didn’t have the fame of musicals such as Les Misérables or The Phantom of the Opera, fans considered it of the same caliber.
I didn’t really know what to expect while watching this other than the fact that there were going to be about a bunch of fairy tale characters in one setting.
So was this film a good way to get me acquainted with the musical? Well, let’s take a look.
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
The movie opens up to a somewhat dark and dreary, although not macabre dark, fairy tale land where the story is being narrated by a narrator.
We are introduced to 4 different sets of characters: Cinderella and her stepfamily, Jack and his mother, the Baker and his wife, and Red Riding Hood. They all take part in singing a song called I Wish in which we learn about their plights and what they want in life.
These characters all cross paths throughout the story. So for the sake of clarity and brevity, I’m going to describe the plot somewhat out of order.
Let’s first take a look at the Baker and his wife, played by James Corden and Emily Blunt, respectively. They are a hardworking couple who run a bakery, but their number one wish has always been to have a child.
One evening, as the Baker and his wife are cleaning up after closing up shop, they have a visitor. This visitor is none other than their next door neighbor, The Witch, played by Meryl Streep.
Before I continue, the question that many of you may have is, how did I feel watching Meryl Streep in this film after her whole anti-Walt Disney speech scandal that she made before the 86th Academy Awards. Well, like most of you, I was really offended by Meryl Streep’s anti-Walt Disney speech and lost a lot of respect for her. (Thankfully, I never really watched many of her films, so I didn’t have that much adoration for her, to begin with.)
So, I expected to be disgusted while seeing her on-screen since this was the film she was working on when she made her anti-Walt Disney speech. Thankfully, this didn’t happen and I was able to watch the movie without having the anti-Walt Disney bias in my head.
With that said, do I think Meryl Streep deserved her Academy Award nomination for this film? Oh, heck no! She wasn’t bad in this, but I don’t think she was anything amazing in this film to be considered worthy of an Academy Award.
The best actor in this film, in my opinion, was James Corden. I literally saw the baker and didn’t really see James Corden behind it. He tried his best and gave a great performance along with a good singing voice.
Anyway, back to the plot. The Witch bursts in telling the Baker and his wife that the reason they can’t get a child is that she’s put a curse on the Baker and this house. Apparently, the Baker’s father once broke into the Witch’s garden a long time ago and stole some vegetables including some beans for his pregnant wife. This caused the Witch to change from a beautiful woman into an old hag. She demanded that the Baker’s father give her one of the expected kids (they were twins) and she then cursed the Baker’s father that his future generations won’t beget children.
The Witch, however, is willing to reverse the curse and tells the Baker and his wife that if they get 4 things for her before three nights, she’d use the items to make a potion that would reverse the curse. Why in 3 nights? Well, that’s when a blue moon is supposed to occur which appears only once every 100 years. The four items that the Baker and his wife have to get are a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure and gold. Why doesn’t the Witch just get these things herself? Well, the way the potion works is that the Witch can’t touch any of these items. So, that’s why she gets the Baker and his wife to do it.
The Baker and his wife agree to do this. The Baker tells his wife to stay at home as he feels it’s his responsibility. She reluctantly acquiesces to this and they even find the beans that the Baker’s father stole in one of the pockets of an old jacket that once belonged to the Baker’s father. They decide that they can use the beans to make any exchange that they may need to and with that, the Baker heads out into the woods.
Let’s move our focus to Cinderella, played by Anna Kendrick. She is the typical Cinderella. She has a stepmother and two stepsisters and is forced to do all the work for them. She’s even banned from attending the King’s Royal 3-Night Festival. The only difference between this Cinderella’s personality with the average Cinderella is that this Cinderella sometimes regrets being so good/nice because she’s not getting recognized/recompensed for it. Every other Cinderella we have seen is good/nice because she knows it’s the right thing to do.
While her stepmother and stepsisters head to the Royal Festival on the first night, Cinderella heads to her mother’s grave. Her mother’s grave is deep in the woods and has a huge tree growing over it due to Cinderella’s tears that she shed there. In the end, Cinderella prays to her dead mother and wishes to go to the Festival. Her dead mother’s spirit then casts magic and gives Cinderella a royal gown and slippers. Excited, Cinderella heads to the Royal Festival.
Now, let’s talk about Jack, played by Daniel Huttlestone.
He is your typical young pre-teen/early teenage boy whose white cow can no longer provide milk for him and his struggling mother, played by Tracey Ullman. His mother then sends Jack to the marketplace to sell the cow so that they can get money to buy food. The route to the marketplace is through those same woods, coincidentally.
Lastly, let’s talk about Red Riding Hood, played by Lilla Crawford. She is your typical kid with a slight streak of cheekiness/sass who asks the Baker and his wife for free goodies to take to her grandmother in the woods.
As she heads down the path to her grandmother’s house in the woods, she soon bumps into a cameo appearance by Johnny Depp playing the Wolf. Just like the wolf in the original story, this wolf chats with Red Riding Hood and learns where she’s going and why. He then gets an idea of having two humans for dinner.
He sings a song entitled, Hello, Little Girl, wherein he tries to delay Red Riding Hood from going straight to her grandmother’s house so that he can reach there first. The plan works and we’re left with literally the most awesome shot in the film!
In the woods, The Baker comes upon Red Riding Hood and notices that her cape is as red as blood. He sees that this is one of the objects that he needs for the potion and even tries to take it from her forcefully. But being the nice guy he is, he gives it back and apologizes, although he still is without a cape.
Luckily, he soon bumps into Jack travelling through the woods with his cow, another one of the objects that the Baker needs for the potion. Also, the Baker’s wife shows up in the woods to give the Baker a scarf that he had left behind. When they see Jack, they approach him, and the Baker’s wife offers a fraudulent trade giving Jack 5 of their beans for his cow. When Jack wonders why the heck he’d do that, the Baker’s wife says that the beans are magical. Hey, good enough for me.
Jack accepts the deal and says that he’ll come back to buy his cow from them once he has money. When Jack returns home and shows his mom the beans he’s got, you can imagine that she’s extremely upset. She punishes Jack with no dinner and then tosses the beans out in the backyard. Unbeknownst to both her and Jack, the beans ARE magical and end up growing a giant beanstalk that leads up to the clouds.
We then see in yet ANOTHER part of the woods, a tower with a beautiful blonde-and-long-haired damsel in it singing a song. This, of course, is Rapunzel, played by MacKenzie Mauzy. We then see the Witch arrive and climb up Rapunzel’s hair as the tower has no windows or doors.
It’s implied that this was the child of the Baker’s father, hence the Baker’s sister. Watching from below though is a smitten prince called…umm….Rapunzel’s prince, played by Billy Magnussen. He’s basically in love with Rapunzel from this moment onwards…and there’s not much more I can say about him.
Going back to Red Riding Hood, she eventually makes it to her grandmother’s place only to find that her grandma looks very…Johnny Depp-y.
Yep, the Wolf has gotten there first and has eaten the grandma. He then devours Red Riding Hood. Meanwhile, The Baker happens to be passing by and hears the scream. He rushes in with a knife, stabs the Wolf, and frees the grandma and Red Riding Hood.
Red Riding Hood thanks the Baker and sings a song called I Know Things Now in which she explains how she was once naive and has learned so many things since…like 10 minutes ago. I have a problem with this because it seems that she hasn’t really learned a lot of THINGS per se; I mean it’s like she only learned one or two lessons: don’t stray from the path and don’t trust wolves. The song implies that she has learned SO much more life lessons than that! I don’t know if the original musical shows her learning more things or if this is just a stupid song.
Anyway, she shows her gratitude to the Baker by giving him her cape. Now, the Baker and his wife have two of the four items that they need.
Later that night, we see Cinderella running away from the palace of the King’s Festival because…well, we don’t know. But we do get to see her prince, Mr. Chris Pine, himself. He goes after her as she runs into the woods. She then bumps into the Baker’s wife (who’s walking through the woods with the cow).
As the prince goes past them, Cinderella and the Baker’s wife have a chat about why she would run away from the prince and what the prince is like in a song entitled, A Very Nice Prince. Cinderella then hurriedly leaves, but, the Baker’s wife notices that Cinderella’s slippers may be one of the objects that they need. As she tries to stop Cinderella, she loses the cow. Now, the Baker and his wife are back to only having one object.
The next day, we come across Cinderella’s Prince and Rapunzel’s Prince (who are brothers) as they sing Agony, a song displaying the agony they face that both brothers can’t get their princesses, yet love them and want to marry them. The song is probably my 2nd favorite mainly because I love imitating Chris Pine’s “I’m Totally British” accent and his hamming up. The song also gives some bare chests for the ladies.
Meanwhile, Jack finds the Baker in the woods and offers him a bag with 5 gold pieces for the return of his cow. Apparently, Jack discovered the beanstalk, climbed up it to find giants, and stole from them. He sings Giants in the Sky to tell us about all of this. The Baker tells Jack that he’s not willing to sell and Jack assumes this means he wants more money, so he heads back up the beanstalk to steal some more gold.
Around this time, the Baker’s wife meets up again with the Baker and reports that she’s lost the cow while she sees that the Baker has got the cape. She assures him though that she knows from where to get the slipper and later hears about Rapunzel and her hair.
The Baker’s wife waits until the nighttime and approaches the tower wherein Rapunzel is kept. She pretends to be Rapunzel’s prince (it’s dark so Rapunzel can’t see) and persuades Rapunzel to let her hair down. Once the Baker’s wife gets a hold of some hair, she tugs on it, cuts off a piece, and runs away. 2 out of 4 objects again!
As she runs away, she bumps into Cinderella who has run away from the festival a SECOND time. I just wonder why she bothers to go back after running away. I mean, wouldn’t it make it awkward when talking with her Prince during the ball?
Anyway, the Baker’s Wife tries to take the shoe from a running Cinderella who pretty much thinks she’s a crazy woman and runs off before the Baker’s wife can get the slipper.
Never mind, the Baker’s Wife meets up with the Baker again (who has since found the cow) and she shows him the hair that she’s got. He’s happy about this and the fact that she knows where/how to get the shoe the following night. They then sing It Takes Two which is somewhat about how the Baker’s changed a lot since being in the woods. He’s more allowing of the Baker’s wife tagging along and helping him. I dunno, did the Baker really change all THAT much? I mean, it’s natural that he’d let his wife work alongside him when he sees that she’s helpful. But other than that, I don’t think his personality or character has changed at all…or even NEEDED to change in the first place. I don’t particularly get this song.
Oh, and then the cow dies.
The next day (the last day they have), the Witch sees Rapunzel and her Prince cavorting (I’m assuming this came after an interesting dialogue)
and in return, she blinds the Prince and gives her own rendition of Mother Knows Best to Rapunzel entitled Children Must Listen/Stay With Me.
What about the other characters? Well, Jack cuts down his beanstalk when a giant starts climbing down it after him after Jack stole a harp. The Baker sets off to get another white cow and the Baker’s Wife waits in anticipation for Cinderella.
This time though, Cinderella’s Prince plans for Cinderella to run away and puts pitch (I had to look it up too) on the stairs of the palace. This causes her to be temporarily stuck where she sings On the Steps of the Palace telling us why she’s so indecisive. Nevertheless, she realizes that one of her slippers is stuck in the pitch and decides to leave it there and see if the Prince will come after her. She then runs away with her other slipper.
She bumps into the Baker’s Wife again who explains how she needs the slipper to have a child and she’ll trade a magic bean for it. Cinderella doesn’t believe this at first and throws away the bean, but eventually agrees to let the Baker’s Wife have her slipper in exchange for one of her shoes.
The Prince then goes around the town to each maiden to find the maiden whose foot fits the slipper. Cinderella’s stepsisters try to fool the Prince by having their toes and heel cut off, but he’s saved when Cinderella comes out and he sees that the shoe fits her.
Now, the Prince was about to ride off with one of the stepsisters before he found out it was a ruse…so…does the Prince not have any idea what Cinderella looks like? Hasn’t he been seeing her for 3 nights in a row? Was he just closing his eyes when she was dancing with him? Is he just forgetful and doesn’t remember faces well?
What about the other prince? Well, the Witch had banished Rapunzel to a swamp to keep her away from meeting her prince again. But, her prince manages to show up while riding atop a horse blind. I’m guessing the horse knew the way to this swamp. Anyway, Rapunzel cries over her prince’s plight and somehow her tears cure him of his blindness. There must be something about tears being magical in this world.
That night, the Baker and his wife meet the Witch to make the potion since they have all four objects now. What about the cow, you ask? Well, the Baker got a cow and covered it in flour. To no surprise, this doesn’t count. After telling her that the original cow died, the Witch brings the cow back to life.
But even then, the potion doesn’t work since their hair is Rapunzel’s which the Witch has touched and the Witch wasn’t supposed to touch any of the items. They manage to get around this problem by using the hair that stems from a piece of corn nearby. This actually works! the Baker’s Wife gets pregnant and literally gives birth not long after, the Witch gets back her beauty, and the princes wed their respective wives the next morning. Everyone seems to be living happily ever after! What could possibly go wrong?
Well, the bean that Cinderella threw away has since sprouted into a beanstalk and a lady giant has climbed down wreaking havoc. The lady giant, played by Frances de la Tour wants Jack as revenge for killing her husband. While she causing damage across the kingdom, the Baker, his Wife, and most of the other characters try to find Jack.
The Baker’s Wife comes across Cinderella’s Prince while searching for Jack and is enamored by his charm. He too gets enamored by her and they share a kiss (and an implicating affair) before he goes along his way.
She then sings a song, Moments in the Woods, talking about her feelings regarding what happened. Her emotions sway like a pendulum from being guilty to enjoying the moment, etc. Sadly (or maybe not sadly, depending on how much you like this character) she dies after accidentally falling off a cliff.
Meanwhile, the Baker, the Witch, Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Jack manage to find each other. Jack shows that he found the scarf from the dead wife of the Baker and gives it to the Baker. The Baker is sad over this, but doesn’t really have time to mourn as he (along with everyone else) burst into my absolute favorite song in the film, Your Fault, wherein these 5 characters start accusing each other for being the main cause of the Giant’s presence and the Baker’s wife’s death. The song concludes with the verdict that the Witch is the one to blame.
She replies with a song, Last Midnight, which somehow ends in her demise. I guess her transformation would only last for a certain amount of time unless something was done…and I guess that something wasn’t done, hence the Witch’s death. (If you’re a fan of this musical, please explain it to me in the comments. Thanks!)
After that, the remaining four decide to lay a trap for the Giant. As they set up the trap and learn more about their sadness, we get probably one of the most famous songs in the film, if not the most famous song in the film, No One is Alone.
The movie ends with the giant being killed, Cinderella finding out about the Prince’s affair, Cinderella and her prince breaking up despite still loving each other, Rapunzel running away with her prince, and Red Riding Hood, Jack, Cinderella, and the Baker living together as one big family to take care of the Baker’s son. (Oh, Jack’s mother has died sometime in this movie and Red Riding Hood’s mother and grandmother are presumed dead as well).
And that was Into the Woods. Answering my previous question, yeah, I do think this was a good way to get me acquainted with the musical.
While I don’t think this film is an excellent film or free from flaws, I do think it’s pretty good nonetheless. The acting is pretty good, for the most part, with James Corden and Daniel Huttlestone being the most commendable, in my opinion. Meryl Streep was quite overrated, as I’ve pointed out, and I wasn’t too fond of Lilla Crawford’s acting. The rest of the cast was above average.
Now, what did I think about the singing in this film? Generally, I think everyone did a really great job with Daniel Huttlestone standing out as amazing! Lilla Crawford is the only one about whom I have a comment to make and it’s that when she sings, you can tell she’s from Broadway. I’m not musically knowledgeable so I don’t know the technical term, but when she sings, it’s always loud and to the audience, if that makes sense, rather than keeping in with the overall tone of what’s going on in the film
The songs, for the most part, were good. Some of them were merely ok, a few I loved, but the rest were good. I don’t think this quite meets the musical perfection of Les Misérables , but it’s still good.
The production design is really good too actually making you feel that you’re in a forest or a small village/town near the forest.
I had some problems with the overall plot though and decisions that the characters would make. But since I”m unfamiliar with the musical, I don’t know whether the film changed a lot of these points or these were from the musical, to begin with. So I have to give the benefit of the doubt.
In the end, I think this is a pretty decent film and I wouldn’t mind watching it again soon.
(You can click on the image below for an enlarged version of my rating sheet.)
So, the final score for this film is 27/35 = 77.14% (C+) !
The next review will be posted on May 4th.