A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Into the Woods is a beautiful, clever, frequently funny, sometimes somber, and ultimately uplifting take on classic Brothers Grimm fairy tales, based on the beloved musical by Stephen Sondheim. Its presentation of characters like Cinderella, Prince Charming, and more as very flawed people may be confusing or upsetting for younger kids; there's lots to think about here, but it's pretty emotionally complicated stuff. A lascivious wolf preys on a young girl, children lose and are separated from their parents, sympathetic characters die, handsome princes aren't all they appear to be, and there's no promise of happy ending for anyone. Meryl Streep's wicked witch might terrify younger kids, and giants wreak havoc upon the land and terrorize its residents -- but for the most part, the scares are mild. There's no strong language to speak of (though some of the brilliant lyrics are tricky to follow); characters do kiss, and there's an illicit tryst between a couple who are married to others. But teamwork is valued, family is found in unexpected places, and characters tackle moral dilemmas in ways that will resonate with viewers.
What's the story?
In a magical kingdom far, far away lives a baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt). Unable to have children, they strike a bargain with the witch next door (Meryl Streep), who sends them on a mission to find a handful of objects that will help them break a curse. Meanwhile, Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) desperately wants to go to the ball hosted by the prince (Chris Pine), and a young girl in a red cape (Lilla Crawford) is on her way to her grandmother's house when she encounters the Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Depp). Then there's young Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), who has to sell his cow and winds up trading her not for money but for magic beans, which ultimately leads to a big problem for the whole kingdom. They all converge as they head INTO THE WOODS.
Is it any good?
Fans of Stephen Sondheim's beloved musical have nothing to fear from this finely tuned and beautifully rendered cinematic version. The set will draw you in; the music, as expected, will leave you at once melancholy and thoughtful; and the acting will surprise and please. The weakest link, if he can be called that, is actually Depp, who could have benefited from a touch of understatement. But almost everyone else is a delight: Streep, especially -- despite having been in scores of memorable movies for decades -- reminds us that she has the power to morph into something we've yet to see. She amazes. And Pine proves he has a gift for comedy in the hilarious song "Agony."
But best of all is Sondheim's music: It's complicated and compelling. This is no run-of-the-mill children's musical. Though it may sport a stylized (and gorgeously rendered) set, the music grounds Into the Woods in a truly human -- and humane -- scale. Musicals don't often teach nuanced life lessons. But if, as one song goes, "children will listen," they'll hear plenty of words to guide them here.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about fairy tales. How does Into the Woods play with the standard formula? Do any of the characters actually live happily ever after? Is that OK?
What audience do you think this movie is intended for? It's about fairy tale characters, but is it for kids? Do you think young children can understand the nuances of Sondheim?
Are the characters role models? Can you relate to their dilemmas and problems? What do they learn over the course of the movie? What choices and mistakes do they make, and how does that affect their story?
How are parents depicted? Are the mothers and fathers in the movie good parents? What does it take to be a good parent?
- In theaters: December 25, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: March 24, 2015
- Cast: Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Emily Blunt
- Director: Rob Marshall
- Studio: Buena Vista
- Genre: Musical
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses and Fairies, Adventures, Fairy Tales, Misfits and Underdogs, Music and Sing-Along
- Run time: 124 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, fantasy action and peril, and some suggestive material
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.