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.

Top Ten Little-Known Novels

A little while back, Goodreads voted for the best books of 2014. If you’ve been following my account, I’ve read many good books this year, and quite a few were nominated in the Young Adult Fantasy category. I fully expected one of those high-rated novels to win. (The Winner’s Curse, These Broken Stars, Ruin and Rising, Heir of Fire, Cress, and The One were some of my favorites this year.)

Imagine my surprise, then, when Cassandra Clare’s City of Heavenly Fire won. I rated The Mortal Instruments series low recently. Also, I don’t believe Clare needs any more publicity. Her novels have already caught the eye of the film industry, reaching an even larger audience than they did before. Her bigger fan base is why she won, I’m sure, but it’s also why she shouldn’t have won.

Oh, well. Life is unfair.

Because of this little blip in my otherwise perfect reading world, I decided to make a list of my own praising the lesser read novels I have rated highly. Each of the 10 novels listed below has less than 10,000 ratings on Goodreads but five stars in my rating system.

  1. Enchanted by Alethea Kontis: 9,581 ratingsEnchanted brings the fairy tale world to life, mixing dozens of fairy tales in an irresistible concoction. Kontis focuses on the princess and the frog story (which, if you haven’t read the Grimm’s version yet, please do so; you’re in for quite the shock). This book was intoxicating to the point where overly-fantastical character names and nauseating romance seemed almost normal–exactly what I want from a fairy tale adaptation. I think it helped that I was such a fairy tale nerd. Plus, it’s safe for all ages.
  2. The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke: 9,395 ratings The Assassin’s Curse blends a middle-eastern setting with a magical world. What really bought my love in this book is the main character, Ananna of the Tanarau. Besides sounding like the French word for pineapple, Ananna is witty, intelligent, fiery, and really everything I could ask for in a main character. The assassin whose life she saves is equally as captivating and I couldn’t help but ship them. Besides, who doesn’t love a good pirate book?
  3. The Treachery of Beautiful Things by Ruth Francis Long: 3,804 ratingsThe Treachery of Beautiful Things is another book that mixes fairy tales, but it’s surprisingly dark and most of the characters have normal names this time! It drew more from the fey of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and less from the fairies of Grimm, Anderson, or Perrault. I loved the brother-sister relationship and Jack interested me from the start, shrouded in secrets as he was. Most of all, I loved the main idea that the more beautiful something is, the more treacherous it is (thus the title). It applies to the cover itself, which, though beautiful, annoys me because of the use of a stock photo… Nonetheless, The Treachery of Beautiful Things is a must-read for faery lovers.
  4. Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch: 3,668 ratings Snow Like Ashes is my most recent read, and since it just came out I’m certain it will gain more ratings soon. It certainly deserves it. Raasch first wrote this book when she was 12 years old, but it is in no way childish. The warring kingdoms plot is tired, but this novel is different in that the kingdom of the protagonist, Meira, was defeated. It is ultimately up to her and seven other refugees to save those who survive in labor camps. The use of magic in this book is also unique, since each kingdom has a conduit and each of the Season kingdoms lives constantly in their season. (Meira’s kingdom, for example, was constantly winter.) The use of an alternative weapon (a chakram) is applaudable and the fierceness and depth of Meira drew me to her from the start. Though I’m always a skeptic of love triangles (who could possibly win the heart of two men?), this love triangle feels natural. I mean, who couldn’t love Meira? Especially considering what the plot twist reveals…
  5. Stork by Wendy Delsol: 2,206 ratings Stork blends Norse myth with Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” Though it starts off in the usual “pretty girl’s parents divorce and she moves to new town and new school” format, Delsol constructed a one-of-a-kind plot. The main character, Kat, is the first fashion-savvy character I’ve read about in YA, but she was also funny (and, we later find, quite powerful). The series didn’t seem completely natural to me (the romance included), but the unique concepts really pushed this book to five stars.
  6. Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury: 1,934 ratings Just look at that cover! Wrapped is a historical fiction novel that features an intelligent (yet confined) debutante. I never knew the popularity of unwrapping Egyptian mummies among the wealthy during the Regency period; it’s simultaneously grotesque and intriguing. More points to this book for teaching me something new! I love the time period, the plot, and, most of all, the protagonist. Agnes is nerdy, funny, and complex; besides, who can resist a fellow Jane Austen fan? Between Agnes, the plot, and the cover, you’re sure to like this novel.
  7. Linked by Imogen Howson: 1,821 ratings By now, I’m pretty sure you’ve figured out how much I judge books by their covers. Linked is no exception. Just look at that beauty! But the cover isn’t all. Howson’s sci-fi focuses on a once-popular schoolgirl turned ill. When the protagonist discovers the reason for her mysterious bruises, pains, and visions, the plot takes off, and I happily flew along. Twins, a love/hate relationship, and a run from a utopian society make this novel one of my favorites. (And the sequel is just as good.)
  8. Tsarina by J. Nelle Patrick: 840 ratings Do not read this if you are passionate about historical adaptations remaining factual. Though the events of this historical fantasy are rooted in true events of the Russian Revolution, it does deviate quite a bit. I thought the fantastical aspects fit into the time period quite well, given the magical qualities of Rasputin. The main character, Natalya, is both loyal to the Romanovs and sympathetic towards Russian peasants. She is feisty, independent, and lovable. The love between her and Alexi was believable and subtle, and my main ship was even more convincing. It helps that I love the name Leo.
  9. The Glass Maker’s Daughter by V. Briceland: 595 ratings The Glass Maker’s Daughter threw me into a new world full of magic lightly based on medieval Italy, where seven entitled families practice each specialize in an art to the point of magic. The main character, Risa Divetri, grew up in the family that specialized in glass making–that’s what got me to pick up this book in the first place. Glass has always enchanted me; who’s to say it couldn’t hold actual enchantment? It impressed me because it had all the romance and intrigue without all the sex and gore. Risa’s magic did not manifest until later, but I appreciated that; after all, who needs magic to be special? Risa makes a path for herself without any supernatural abilities.
  10. The House of Windjammer by V.A. Richardson: 144 ratings How could this book not have more ratings? The House of Windjammer may have a slow start, but don’t let that stop you. I learned more through this novel than through any other book listed here. Did you know the Dutch were once so crazed about tulips they treated various varieties like investments or stocks? Did you know Dutch trade with the Americas was dictated by private companies (primarily the Dutch West India Company)? Did you know how much worse banks were back in the 1600s? The novel made clear the heavy amount of research the author did on the 1630s in Amsterdam. Even the characters are flawed to the point of realisticness. And did I mention there’s another love/hate romance brewing? My favorite kind!

These books deserve far more ratings than they have. (I feel like an ASPCA commercial: save the books!)

Do you know any other books that should be more popular? Comment below!