By: Kevin Jordan

Lies, damn lies, and previews.

into the woods

When it comes to movie previews (or trailers, if you prefer), you always have to ask yourself how much of the movie you want spoiled and how much you want your expectations swayed prior to watching previews.  It’s been awhile since I last gave this advice, so here it is again – if you want to get a peek at a movie, but not have the preview ruin your expectations or spoil the movie, watch the first theatrical preview and avoid all other previews like the plague.  The first theatrical preview always comes out before the movie has finished post-production editing, so they are the least likely to do something stupid like show you the ending of the movie.  Subsequent previews are almost always made after the film is in the can and usually reveal far too much about the film as part of the marketing push that occurs in the 2-4 weeks prior to the film’s release.  These later previews are the ones that tend to give away the best jokes of comedies, show the misunderstanding that breaks up the couple in a rom-com, or reveal how the thieves steal the gold in The Italian Job.

The other thing previews tend to do is deceive you.  Sometimes they’ll feature scenes that aren’t actually in the movie, and other times they’ll make the movie seem like something else entirely.  Into the Woods does the latter and does it by neglecting to mention a tiny detail about the movie that is kind of important – it’s a freaking musical.  Unless you are a fan of the stage, there is no way you can know that detail unless someone like me tells you about it.  And don’t think Disney just made a mistake – they intentionally kept the previews from revealing that because it would murder their box office receipts by turning off nearly every male between the ages of six and dead.  Dishonest shenanigans like that are part of the reason why Sony got hacked (and for the last time, it wasn’t the North Koreans).

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Into the Woods; it just surprised me to find out it was a musical.  I was looking forward to a fun mash-up of fairytales that would help me forget ABC’s incredibly disappointing Once Upon a Time (also owned by Disney).  When the movie immediately kicks off with a song, my first reaction was “we’re going to find out what Emily Blunt and Chris Pine sound like in the shower?  Nice.”  Of course, most of us would rather see what those two ridiculously beautiful people look like in the shower, but I digress.

(Very mild SPOILERS ahead.)

Into the Woods is a fairytale about a couple (James Corden and Blunt as a baker and his wife, respectively) trying to lift a curse on them that prevents them from having children.  In order to lift the curse, they must collect four items for the witch (Streep) who placed the curse on them.  The twist to the story is that it weaves Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, and Rapunzel into the greater story, though Jack and the Beanstalk is by far the dominant of the four; the other three really just there as side stories to provide supporting characters.  All of the actors are delightful, the stories are fun and amusing, and the audience was thoroughly enjoying the film.  That is, until it ended halfway through and a new movie started.  Yeah, you read that right.

Of course, it wasn’t actually a new movie, but it might as well have been.  There is most definitely a happily ever after concluding the first half and then the movie completely switches tones, going from lighthearted and fun to dark and cynical.  It’s as jolting to the viewer as finding out about the singing, but is much more confusing than the singing.  After the movie concludes, it’s obvious that the intention of the film was in the spirit of a true Grimm’s fairytale, but the two halves are such polar opposites that the movie as a whole doesn’t feel like a whole.  It seemed almost as if a sequel was just bolted on because neither half was long enough to be its own movie.

Before I get to the truly confounding component of the movie, I want to reiterate how fun and entertaining the first half of the movie is.  The movie hops between the different stories and brings them all together seamlessly.  There’s a wealth of humor and the actors, appear to be having the time of their lives, including Anna Kendrick, who is making everyone forget she was in the Twilight series.  Surprisingly, Chris Pine has a very good singing voice, though one that I never would have attributed to him if I didn’t see his name listed as the performer in the credits.  Unsurprisingly, Emily Blunt is amazing and, like Benedict Cumberbatch, is on my list of people who I would pay to watch read the phone book.

About that confounding component, fairy tales traditionally include a moral for the reader.  Based on what you actually see and hear in Into the Woods, the moral is “be careful what you wish for,” which is plainly observed in the second half of the film.  What’s confounding is that the movie ends with Meryl Streep singing the moral of the story, but it’s something else entirely – “be careful what you say because children will listen.”  Huh?  Nothing in this movie points to that moral, in fact, the opposite is stressed since the children in the film don’t listen to what anybody says.  I have no idea where that came from and even less idea what it’s supposed to mean.  Was the movie actually trying to tell us not to cuss around our kids?  Or that we should lie to them?  Were they trying to tell us we should act like parents from the 1950’s?

Like I said, I enjoyed the film – the first half much more than the second half – though I’m not sure I’d recommend it to young children on Christmas.  Though, come to think of it, lying on Christmas is an annual tradition.

Rating: Ask for two and half dollars back.  In addition to the non-moral, I confess that I lied too – and this is a lie of omission – Johnny Depp gets a short cameo that is just above cringe-worthy.