The music starts right away, bringing together all the characters of the familiar fairytales. "I wish..." they all say, longing for the one thing they want the most. For Cinderella is to go to the festival, or the ball we know well. For Jack is to keep his friend, the cow, when he has to sell her in the market. For the baker and his wife is to have the child they have always wished for. The harmonies are lovely and you quickly realize their wishes will lead them all into the woods, where turmoil, adventure and magic awaits them.
The beginning is promising. The quest for items to lift a spell is compelling and within the structure of our beloved fairytales. Then things take a turn for the worse and the movie, while never awful, doesn't fully recover.
My first sign was when the story of the Red Riding Hood begins, showing a ten year old girl with a red cape walking slowly through the woods, not certain of her way. Not far behind, we see a lurking figure but it's a man instead of a wolf. It's Mr. Wolf with canine attributes but a man nonetheless who is leering at the little girl with what can only be described as lust, not hunger.
It turns much worse when he begins singing his song 'Hello Little Girl' and the hidden message of sexual desire instead of physical hunger is stronger with every verse.
The tones of pedophilia in the story are only enhanced when Red Riding Hood has her own musical number about the experience of being 'eaten by the wolf'. She realizes she did wrong, in 'straying her course' and 'not listening to her mother', but also admits how exciting it was to be near him, and how she now 'knows things', things that he showed her.
For adults it becomes quite clear that the reference is about a girl's first sexual experience yet the scene can still pass for children who are not looking for the double meaning. However it's too close for comfort and it seems impossible that the message adults here was not intended by the film's production.
The movie continues to have other hidden messages, if you keep looking for them, and steers away from the usual fairytale ending and lessons you know so well. The result is an unclear point to the story, fun but forgettable musical numbers and a feeling of disappointment when the movie lasts longer than it should have.
Watch the video review for more information on Into the Woods and a full depth analysis of the film.