Character Development: 3 Stars
One thing that Into the Woods does right is allow its characters to develop some very human idiosyncrasies, and to evolve into more complicated characters as the film progresses. Cinderella in particular has some intriguing dimension to her. Instead of being portrayed as a simple dreamer who longs to be whisked away to the palace in a fancy ball gown, Cinderella is legitimately frightened at the prospect of playing a princess her entire life. She confesses that she enjoys dressing up and pretending to be royalty, but when these dreams start to take on a very plausible reality, she has to re-evaluate whether she's really willing to undergo this sort of spellbinding transformation.
The other characters each go through similar struggles and transformations. Little Red Riding Hood learns the beauty of straying from the established order of things and comes to understand the difference between "nice" and "good." Rapunzel is eventually confronted with the confusing situation of rebelling against someone she once loved, and learns the difference between being protected and being held captive. Finally the Baker's wife, who seemed so sure of what she wanted the entire film, suddenly finds herself confronted with dreams she never knew she had - and relishing the idea of that she may have more romance and adventure in her than she ever dared to think possible.
Love: 3 Stars
Into the Woods tells three distinct love stories, each with their own brutal twist. The compelling part about these stories is that although they seem fanciful and silly at first blush, each becomes riddled with its fair share of complications. Into the Woods makes it clear that it is possible to find a romantic happy ending, but there is no guarantee what shape it will take - or how long it will last.
Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles - Women
Gender Roles - Men
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Gender Roles - Women: 2 Stars
Like most incarnations of ancient fairy tales, the women in this film are meek, obedient and occasionally foolish or naïve. Cinderella kindly attends to her stepmother and stepsisters (as she always has). Little Red Riding Hood falls for the wolf's simple deception and is eventually swallowed whole by the ravenous animal. Rapunzel allows herself to be locked away in a tower at the mercy of a witch's whims (until she is rescued by a handsome prince). And the Baker's wife, though occasionally smart and brash, more or less agrees to step out of the way so that her husband can complete their quest without her interference.
Each of these women has at least a small opportunity to learn something about herself and briefly step outside of her pre-destined and outdated role, but there isn't enough courage or heart in any of them to truly inspire us.
Gender Roles - Men: 2 Stars
The Baker is a pretty poor example of a male role model. He not only tries to send his wife home from the woods - rather than accepting her help and her guidance - but he also turns out to be a pretty pitiful father to the child he's supposedly wanted all his life. His brief epiphany at the end doesn't make up for his striking lack of character for most of the film. In the end, he is just another slouchy, unimpressive everyman with a beautiful wife to coach him through his own insecurities and make him seem proud and accomplished.
The other male leads are wealthy princes, handsome, arrogant, entitled - and one of them even turns out to be unfaithful despite his obnoxious protestations of love. Although the film does poke fun at these sorts of heavily romanticized prince charming characters, both men remain the dreamy embodiment of young women's happy endings, and are never truly replaced with anything more substantive or rational.
Finally, young Jack - a poor boy with little sense or resources - eventually takes to stealing and bragging solely for the sport of it. His selfish escapades take place off screen, which allows filmmakers to avoid any moralizing over Jack's clandestine activities. Certainly, no one wants Jack and his mother to starve, but there is little more than a passing reference to the fact that Jack's behaviors and decisions have actually hurt people.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 2 Stars
As is usually the case, Into the Woods is full of beautiful women thinly disguised by ragged clothing, unkempt hair, and an occasional dirt smudge on the cheek. But across the board, these women are young and attractive, slim white and pretty, and without a lot of skills, personality or other impressive traits to make them more memorable. By and large they are loved for their grace and charm, whether dressed as elegant princesses, or in the guise of vulnerable peasant maids in need of rescue.
Plot: 2 Stars
Into the Woods is full of intersecting plot lines without much depth or meaning. To make matters worse, most of these watered-down stories require a prince, a baker or even a little boy to rescue the women around them from a number of disparate tragedies. Although the film contains a healthy amount of female characters and even gives them an impressive amount of screen time and dialogue, the film doesn't offer many opportunities for any of these women to lead the charge or save the day.
Supporting Characters: 3 Stars
Into the Woods makes a heroic attempt to humanize the evil witch - by transforming her into an over-protective mother, a scapegoat who bears the brunt of all of society's tragedies and even a responsible community leader who is willing to take difficult but practical steps to keep the village safe. While all of these elements definitely make the witch a more intriguing character, her sporadic human moments are too disjointed and inconsistent to really create a semblance of a whole person. She is sometimes strong, sometimes weak, sometimes compassionate, and sometimes relentless. But while a certain amount of contradiction makes for a compelling character portrait, in this case, it is a bit too muddled to leave audiences with a firm sense of either sympathy or revulsion.
Family: 1 Star
The Baker and his wife maintain a perfectly traditional marriage, in which the Baker is the clear head of household and his wife controls the domestic duties. She is able to put up a very soft rebellion from time to time, explaining to her husband who she is and all that she has to offer - but she is also dutifully obedient when her mild protests fall upon deaf ears. In time, the Baker does start to recognize his wife's many talents, but apart from one syrupy song, we don't truly see a change in him. If anything, the gender roles become even further entrenched once the couple reverses the witch's curse, and finally gives birth to the child they've always wanted.
A baker and his wife discover that they've been cursed by the witch next door. They are doomed to remain childless unless they can collect four unique ingredients for a magic spell that will reverse the curse. They head into the woods where they cross paths with some familiar fairy tale characters, each holding a different clue to completing the witch's potion. The Baker and his wife soon find themselves closing in on their own happy ending, but the woods are a strange place - and in this fairy tale - things don't always unfold exactly as expected.
Kelly is a labor law