tek's rating: ½

Into the Woods (PG)
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Caution: spoilers!

This 2014 film is based on the 1986 Broadway musical of the same name (of which I saw a production that aired on PBS in 1991). I guess there are some changes in both plot and songs, not that I'd remember. (I watched this film in 2018, six years after I watched the stage production on DVD. And my memory isn't great even with shorter intervals.) It's hard to say whether I liked the stage version or the film more. The film certainly has more lavish production values, which is nice. And I liked the cast, and the songs, and everything... but I'm rating the movie slightly lower than I did the stage version. While the film remains darker than one might expect for a Disney film, it's still not quite as dark as the original, and that cost it some points. But I still loved it.

So... there's a Baker (James Corden, who also narrates the film) and his wife (Emily Blunt), who both want to have a baby, but they've been unable to conceive. They eventually learn from their neighbor, a Witch (Meryl Streep), that she had long ago placed a curse on their house, because of the actions of the Baker's father, who had stolen beans from her garden. They also learn that the Witch has been raising the sister the Baker never knew he had. (That's Rapunzel, and watching the story now, I can't help but be reminded of Tangled.) The Witch's curse is what's preventing the Baker and his wife from conceiving a child, but she promises to lift the curse if they can bring her four items before midnight three days hence: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold. So the Baker sets out into the woods to find these things. His wife also goes looking for the items, even though the Baker wants her to stay home. And he eventually realizes he should have accepted her help all along.

Meanwhile, there's a young boy named Jack, whose mother (Tracey Ullman) sends him to sell his cow, Milky White, in another village (which he must get to by going through the woods). Jack really doesn't want to do this, because the cow is his best (and only) friend. But he has no choice, because the cow has stopped giving milk, and he and his mother are very poor. The Baker eventually encounters Jack, and realizes the cow is one of the items he needs, so he buys it with five beans he'd found in his father's old coat. When Jack gets home, his mother is of course upset, and tosses the beans onto the ground. Overnight, a giant beanstalk grows, which Jack climbs. We don't see any of his adventures up in the clouds, where he meets giants, but we hear about it later.

Meanwhile, Little Red Riding Hood is walking through the woods, to bring some bread and sweets (which she had previously gotten from the Baker's wife) to her Grandmother. At one point she meets a wolf, who sends her off on a different path to enjoy some flowers and things, thus delaying her arrival at her Grandmother's house, which gives the wolf time to get there and eat her Grandmother, and lies in wait to have the young girl for dessert. But before that, the Baker meets the girl, and tries to steal her cape, but gives it back when she won't stop screaming. She thinks he's even worse than a wolf, at least until she gets eaten by the wolf. And later the Baker shows up and kills the wolf, rescuing both the girl and the grandmother from his stomach. (Makes me wonder if the wolf is from Gallifrey, because it's bigger on the inside.) After that, the girl is grateful, and gives the Baker her cape.

Meanwhile, Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) wants to go to the Prince's festival, which will last three nights. Of course, her wicked Stepmother (Christine Baranski) has no intention of letting her go. Cinderella is also tormented by her stepsisters, Lucinda (Lucy Punch) and Florinda. (I found the casting of Punch amusing, since she had previously played one of Ella's stepsisters in Ella Enchanted.) So, Cinderella goes into the woods, to visit the tree where her mother was buried. And her mother's spirit appears and grants her wish to go to the festival, by magically dressing her in a ball gown and golden slippers. We don't really see her attending the ball, just running away from the Prince (Chris Pine), with whom she had spent the night dancing. While she's running through the woods to get home, she meets the Baker's wife, who sees her slippers and realizes she must get at least one of them for the Witch. She doesn't manage to do so that night, but Cinderella returns to the festival the next two nights as well, each time running away, believing the Prince wouldn't want her if he knew who she really was. And the Baker's wife does eventually get one of her slippers.

Meanwhile, the Baker's wife at one point finds the tower where Rapunzel lives, and manages to obtain some of her hair. And... I guess another prince, the brother of Cinderella's prince, had previously discovered the tower and returned whenever the Witch was away, to secretly court Rapunzel. And she eventually decides to leave the tower with the prince, much to the chagrin of the Witch.

Finally, on the third night, the Witch gets all the items, which she needed to make a potion that would break a curse her own mother had placed on her, which made her old and ugly. And when she regains her youth and beauty, she lifts the curse she'd placed on the Baker, so they can finally have a child. Meanwhile, Jack had stolen gold, and later a harp, from a giant in the clouds. So his mother is happy not to be living in poverty anymore. Cinderella and Rapunzel marry their princes, and everyone is happy. However, the giant starts chasing Jack down the beanstalk, and Jack cuts it down, which causes the giant to fall to his death. Some time later, the giant's wife comes down another beanstalk, and intends to kill everyone in retribution for her husband's death, unless they can deliver Jack to her. So there's some debate among the various characters about whether or not they should do that, and who, ultimately, is to blame for everything that has happened. And everyone has other problems they have to deal with, on top of that.

As usual, I feel like I've given too much away, but also feel like I couldn't have really said any less and still manage to explain the plot (and characters) at all. Anyway, I've left some details out, and I won't say how it all ends. But as I said earlier, it's a fairly dark story. But at least there are a lot of good songs! Oh, and I guess there's some humor, too... particularly when the two princes are singing together.


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