Into the Woods, Into the Theatre

SPOILER ALERT: Please note that the content below may contain spoilers for the Disney production of “Into the Woods.”

I knew very little about the plot of “Into the Woods” before… well, before I went into “Into the Woods.” All I knew was that the musical involved quite a few fairy tales. Still, I suppose I knew more about it than others. (shoutout to my friend who did not know the film was a musical until she saw it)

Though I believe the Disney movie “Into the Woods” preserved the atmosphere of original fairy tales and wore its music beautifully, the characterization didn’t strike the right chord. (I mean the phrase figuratively, of course; the singers can really hit those notes.)

Let me take a moment first to fangirl about the fact that this movie actually tied closer to the Grimm’s tales than to the Disney adaptations. Cinderella’s birds helped her pick lentils from the ashes, Cinderella’s mother’s grave grew a tree, Cinderella lost her golden (not glass–golden) shoe in pitch, Cinderella’s stepsisters cut off parts of their feet, and Cinderella’s birds pecked out her stepsisters’ eyes. Rapunzel’s story was also true to the original Grimm tale in the reason for Rapunzel’s kidnapping and the sorceress-mother blinding the prince-lover. Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood were also true to their respective tales. Disney let the fairy tales keep their violence! (They didn’t actually show any of the violence–this is a PG movie, after all–but it was all stated clearly enough.)

To reiterate, a live action Disney fairy tale film did not draw from previous Disney fairy tale films. (Quite the shock, since the ABC TV series Once Upon a Time seems to only speak in Disney.)

The movie did not just draw from the original tales themselves; they also drew from the undercurrents of fairy tales. Some scholars believe the wolf’s devourment of Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother is suggestive of a double rape, which certainly seems to be the case in “Into the Woods.” Though this PG-rated movie wouldn’t dare say so, it is suggested through subtleties; for example, the wolf’s introductory song is titled “Hello, Little Girl” and Red’s song after she is pulled from the wolf’s corpse is called “I Know Things Now.”

I did not like that they showed Red and her grandmother “in the wolf’s stomach” during the latter song, though. I know scholars draw similarities between Red in the wolf and Jonah in the whale, but in a film like “Into the Woods,” which highlights the realisticness of fairy tales, the image of Red and her grandmother inside the wolf seems only to highlight how unrealistic the story truly is. The scene felt more like Alice in Wonderland than Jonah in the Whale, though that may just be because of Johnny Depp’s presence. In any case, I felt the story and, thus, the morals, would have been more relatable if that scene were excluded.

I walked into the theatre expecting a cliche Disney fairy tale adaptation with music. Halfway through the movie, that’s what I got. But then something hits the fairy tale world and knocks down everything I expected.

I’ve never been so glad my expectations weren’t met.

Prince Charming’s later encounter with the Baker’s wife may only show a kiss, but what happens when the scene fades is obvious enough to the adults in the theatre. Both characters cheated on their spouses, and, though the Baker’s wife seems to regret it in her song “Moments in the Woods,” their interactions did not seem entirely in line with her character. Though she was characterized as a strong, brave woman, nearly all her actions were justified in her desperation to have a child with her husband, the baker. I understand that the woods is a magical setting which amplifies the characters’ more animalistic traits and that the prince was dazzlingly rich and charmingly deceptive, but I thought the baker’s wife was stronger than all that. I mean, would you be seduced to do what you know is wrong at these words?: “Right and wrong don’t matter in the woods, / Only feelings. / Let us meet the moment unblushed. / Life is often so unpleasant- / You must know that, as a peasant- / Best to take the moment present / As a present for the moment.” Yeah, I don’t know about you, but I don’t think a prince pointing out my low social status would get me all hot and flustered, even if he did look like Chris Pine.

It’d be one thing if Cinderella’s Prince took her unwillingly, but it didn’t seem in character for her to cheat on her husband (who was my favorite character) AND her newborn child willingly.

Then again, maybe it’s just “something about the woods.”

While we’re on the subject of Cinderella’s Prince, what was wrong with Chris Pine? His big gestures would have been fine for a play, but this production of “Into the Woods” was actually a movie, and if his gestures had been more subtle, perhaps I would have no qualms with his part in the movie. As it stands, I’m disappointed in his casting. His singing was not as brilliant as the rest of the cast, nor was his acting up to their par.

I did enjoy Pine’s character in the song “Agony,” though. Watching the two princes brag about whose love was fairer and whose agony was worse was very realistic, and mirrors what I’ve seen of boys talking about girls. And the shirt-ripping scene was a nice touch.

While we’re on the subject of great songs, check this out–all my favorite characters meshed together in my favorite song(s).

Despite my distaste for the “inside the wolf” scene, the uncharacteristic adultery of the Baker’s wife, and Chris Pine’s dramatic acting, I do recommend the movie. If the songs and fairy tales aren’t enough, “Into the Woods” should draw you into the theatres with it’s strange cast–The Devil Wears Prada’s Miranda Priestly, Young Victoria’s Queen Victoria, Doctor Who’s Craig Owens (you may remember him as the father of Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All), Pitch Perfect’s Beca, Les Miserables’ Gavroche, Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, and Pirates of the Caribbean’s Captain Jack Sparrow–all of whom can apparently sing.