Feb 03

“Into the Woods”: Themes and Psychology of Movie Version

Into the woods–you have to grope,
But that’s the way you learn to cope.
Into the woods to find there’s hope
Of getting through the journey.
Into the woods, each time you go,
There’s more to learn of what you know.

From Into the Woods

Scott Foundas, Variety, describes the characters and plot of Rob Marshall‘s Into the Woods, the movie version of the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine play. Among others, this new version stars Emily Blunt, Meryl Streep, and James Corden.

The lineup includes a humble baker (the very appealing James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt), whose bake shop is frequented by a bratty, shoplifting Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), and who live next door to a haggard old witch (Meryl Streep) with many axes to grind. Long ago, the witch abducted the baker’s infant sister, Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy), and cursed the baker himself with sterile genes  punishment for the sins of his estranged father (who stole magic beans from the witch’s garden, once upon a time). But the curse can be reversed, the witch announces, provided the baker and his wife procure the necessary ingredients in the span of 72 hours: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold.

It is that quest which leads the childless couple into said woods, and into contact with all manner of fellow travelers running to or away from something: the farm boy Jack (Daniel Huttlestone), reluctantly off to market to sell his beloved but milk-dry cow; Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), giving chase to a confounded Prince Charming (Chris Pine); and Little Red herself, weighing mother’s advice about strangers against the dandyish charms of a certain Mr. Wolf (a lip-smacking Johnny Depp, in slanted fedora and a kind of hirsute smoking jacket).

The Trailer

Themes and Psychology in Into the Woods

As the ads for Into the Woods declare, “Be careful what you wish for.”

Kat Brown, Telegraph: “Besides its themes of loss and uncertainty, the show’s main message — underlined by the show stopper ‘No One Is Alone’ — is about the importance of community.”

Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Psychology Today:

As explained in an article by the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s Ace G. Pilkington, composer Stephen Sondheim built Jungian themes into the musical. Jung himself regarded fairy tales as centering on what he called ‘archetypes’ involving such characters as heroes (the princes), tricksters (the wolf), and evil (the giant). However, it’s the woods themselves that serve as the main transformative agent. As people explore the woods, they explore their own underlying identities.

The Beginning and Middle Vs. the Ending

Susan Wloszczyna, rogerebert.com: “Eventually, everyone’s wish comes true in one form or another. Then, in the final act, everything falls apart…Death, infidelity, disillusionment and finger-pointing eventually result in a communal healing process that certainly will ring true to audiences who are regularly exposed to such real-life aftermaths in the wake of tragic disasters both natural and man-made these days.”


Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “With archness and irony, ‘Into the Woods’ goes deeper into the fairy stories, allowing us to see familiar archetypes in new and not so flattering ways.”