It is strange to watch a film like “Into the Woods” in a post-“Shrek” world. When “Into the Woods” first debuted in 1987, and turned fairy tales on their heads, it was a truly unique concept. Why should we accept that all princes and princesses have a happy ending? Why should poor children be allowed to steal without consequence? Why shouldn’t terrible parents pay for the sins they committed in the name of “protecting their children”? Those are all fair questions, and many of them have since been addressed in films like “Shrek,” “Tangled,” and “Jack the Giant Slayer,” to name a few of the characters involved here. All of these films owe a debt of gratitude to “Into the Woods,” yes, but when you take 27 years to go from the stage to the screen, all debts have been paid far in advance. We are now at the point where pop culture has passed “Into the Woods” by, stripped it for parts, and left it for dead.
The Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) want a baby, but the witch who lives next door (Meryl Streep) reveals to them that she has cursed the Baker’s bloodline with impotency for a crime that his father committed. But she will undo the curse – which will then restore the witch’s beauty – if the two collect four items from previously separate fairy tales: a cow (the one Jack sells for magic beans), a red cape (yep, Little Red Riding Hood), hair as gold as corn (Rapunzel’s), and the golden slipper worn by runaway bride Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), who leaves the prince (Chris Pine) in a hurry every night of the big festival. As their lives intersect, the characters learn things about themselves. Some of the things they learn are good, while others are lessons like, if you kill a guy, be prepared to kill his vengeful wife as well. Wait, what?