INTO THE WOODS is a sanitised an anodyne version of the Stephen Sondheim musical that supposedly shows us the dark side of fairytales. This is, of course, material far better and more deeply explored by Angela Carter in her books and with Neil Jordan in his 1984 gothic horror classic THE COMPANY OF WOLVES - a movie on which I have recorded a full length DVD commentary, which can be found here. The Sondheim musical is, by contrast, a work that tries to show the dark backing of the mirror - death, disenchament - but never reached the psychosexual depths of Carter. It has a two act structure - in the first a variety of familiar fairy-tale characters journey into the woods with many of the threads tied together in the story of the baker and his wife who need to collect a handful of fairy-tale items and so lift the curse that prevents them from having a baby. We meet Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, some Princes and Jack and the Beanstalk and all more or less get what they want. But then, in the second act we see that fairytales don't end happily ever after. We see death, infidelity, and the high cost of "winning".
All of this is good post-modern stuff, except a few decades too late to pack a real punch. I wonder how kids in the post-Shrek era will view this rather tame revisionism. None of this is helped by Disney trying to keep the movie to a PG certificate and running shy of a 3 hour running time. This means that the pivotal, albeit it largely off-screen character of the baker's father - the man who starts so much of the plot - is omitted. Much of the violence is toned down and character motivation is subtly altered. The result is a wolf with a lesser bite.
Overall, I did still enjoy the film although I wouldn't want to see it again. The acting is just fine, the production design beautiful and the cinematography really very good indeed. The only misfires are, for me, too (and two) campy performances from Meryl Streep as the witch and Johnny Depp as the Wolf, and the aforementioned ellipses.
INTO THE WOODS has a running time of 125 minutes and is rated PG. The movie is on release in the USA, UAE, South Korea, Canada, Kuwait, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Kenya, Romania, South Africa, Australia, Czech Republic, Croatia, Macedonia, New Zealand, Slovenia, the UK and Ireland. It opens later in January in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Belgium, Luxembourg, Peru, Thailand, Spain, Iceland, Pakistan, France, the Philippines, Brazil, Chile and the Netherlands. It opens in February in Argentina, Mexico, Poland, Taiwan, Austria, Germany, Israel, Turkey, Venezuela and Japan. It opens on March 14th in Japan, March 26th in Denmark, March 27th in Norway, on April 1st in Sweden, April 2nd in Italy, on April 17th in Estonia, on April 19th in China and on April 24th in Lithuania.