My general reaction to Into the Woods was initially one of abject confusion. I went to see it with two of my dearest friends, and at the end of it all of us were left wondering just what in the nine hells we were supposed to take away from this film. What were we supposed to feel? With the exception of Meryl Streep's blessedly entertaining appearances as the witch, augmented by her fabulous vocal skills and the hysterically funny "Agony" sequence, my personal overall feeling regarding this film was an intense mixture of discomfort and confusion.
Perhaps my friends and I simply went in with the wrong expectations? What we were expecting to get was a lighthearted musical comedy that somehow wove together several of the world's most well-known folk/fairy tales. Apparently, that was NOT the point. Unfortunately, we didn't realize that wasn't the point until it was far too late to adjust our expectations. On closer examination, I believe this may have been intended to present the differences in the original iterations of the folk/fairy tales and what we've come to expect from Disney versions of the tales, as well as adding a more realistic ending. That's all well and good if that was what was intended, but if that is the case the trailers were obscenely misleading. Several of the moviegoers that were in the theater with my friends and me left angry and/or confused.
There were, however, some truly great moments in the film. My personal favorite moment was the following gem delivered by Chris Pine:
I was raised to be charming, not sincere.
That was the moment when I realized that my expectations for this film had been mistaken from the beginning. I felt misled, but understanding began to dawn on me at last. I was disappointed, but at least I think I know now what Into the Woods was trying to do.
What else did I like about this film? I loved that they went back to some of the darker elements of the original folk/fairy tales, such as Cinderella's stepsisters' self-mutilation in pursuit of Prince Charming, and the more adult implications of Little Red Riding Hood were clearly alluded to with Johnny Depp's Big Bad Wolf having obvious sexual overtones in his assessment of Red.
Most people these days don't realize what Little Red Riding Hood was really about, and Depp's performance brought the truth of what was actually going on to the fore. I actually caught myself muttering things like "stranger danger" and "pedo alert" as I watched Depp's scenes. He positively made my skin crawl, sent shudders of revulsion down my spine, and I believe he served the exact purpose he was supposed to.
Meryl's performance was fantastic, as usual, and I really enjoyed most of the songs. I also deeply enjoyed Emily Blunt's performance as the baker's wife. I expected to like Cinderella best, and while I enjoyed her, the Baker actually ended up being my favorite. It's certainly worth seeing, but I highly recommend you check your expectations (and realign them if needed) before you do.