A few weeks ago, I went to another Movie in the Park to see Into the Woods.
The first half of the movie weaves the familiar stories of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk around the tale of a baker and his wife who want a child. At about the middle of the movie, there are the traditional ‘happy endings’ of each tale. In addition, the baker and his wife become pregnant. The witch who guided them in lifting the curse regains her youthfulness.
Then, everything changes.
A second giant comes down another beanstalk. Her footsteps cause an earthquake that destroys everything. Everyone walks through the forest, but the familiar paths are gone.
Previously, the forest has been where Little Red Riding Hood discovered who she could trust. Now, she discovers that no one can tell her what is right or wrong anymore. Before, the forest was where the Baker and his wife fall deeply in love, reveling in each others’ bravery, learning to work together as a team, and sacrificing for each other and for their child. Now, the Baker’s wife is seduced by Cinderella’s Prince in the forest, and wonders afterwards why she cannot have both the security of her marriage and the excitement of the Prince’s affection. Having strayed, she gets lost and dies. The same Prince is accused of straying by his Cinderella and replies, “I was raised to be charming, not sincere.” Cinderella and the Prince, no longer charmed with each other, part ways.
At first, I hated the message I heard through this movie. I am a lover of myth, folklore and fairytales and this movie seemed to intentionally deconstruct these very things. In a fairytale, though everything is from another world, things always go a certain way for a reason. George MacDonald describes this as complete freedom to reinvent physical laws, while keeping moral laws the same between worlds. Into the Woods only dared change physical laws as much as the old tales it was drawn from: when the paths in the forest disappeared, nothing magical suggested itself. Instead, moral laws were completely revamped.
“Law is the soil in which alone beauty will grow; beauty is the only stuff in which Truth can be clothed; and you may, if you will, call Imagination the tailor that cuts her garments to fit her, and Fancy his journeyman that puts the pieces of them together, or perhaps at most embroiders their button-holes. Obeying law, the maker works like his creator; not obeying law, he is such a fool as heaps a pile of stones and calls it a church.”
As I walked back from the park with my four friends, we discussed the movie and agreed: it had left us feeling dissatisfied and disturbed.
Now, weeks later, as I sit to write this post, I find pity stirring in me for the writers of this film. One of the witch’s songs cautions that children pay attention to the tales that are told them. At the end of Into the Woods, we discover that the whole film was the Baker telling a story to his baby of how things came to be.
Do they think that fairytales could never be real? Are they suggesting the only feasible path for this generation? Because the characters do make important choices at the end: the widower Baker “adopts” the other orphaned fairytale characters, Cinderella chooses a more mundane life (by divorcing), they bond together to kill the giant.
Were they afraid of disillusionment in their young audiences? In essence, they say to the audience, “We can no longer tell you which path to take. There are no paths. No one can help you except yourself.”
Whatever the motive, Disney has officially created the most depressing fairytale I have ever come across.
I do not recommend the film.
(Now, I am told that Disney’s new “Cinderella” film will redeem them in my eyes… )