If you hated the movie because you didn’t know what all these fairy tales’ characters were doing, or you thought the action scenes were boring and Johnny Depp had too little screen time to worth your ticket money, then you had most certainly expected the wrong thing.
“Into the Woods” is nothing like those huge action blockbusters you think it was. If you want to see epic giant battle, melodramatic plot twist or even a single heroic move that we would normally expect in a fairy tale, then you wouldn’t find it in this movie. “Into the Woods” is originally a Broadway musical created by well acclaimed composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, and playwright James Lapine. Since its first debut in 1986, the musical had received numerous commendations over the years. The show was very well known for being brutally entertaining with its dark and twisted adaptation of the most famous fairy tales at the time.
I’ve never seen the musical before watching this movie, so I was going in “clean”. I didn’t know what to expect at all, and for the record, I am totally an old-school Disney nerd. As a kid, I was deeply influenced by Disney’s fairy tales, which are some really simple stories about good and bad people. Little did I know, “Into the Woods” was actually famous for its irony that mocks the over-simplicity of fairy tales that had been used for decades to educate our innocent hearts. The story questioned all the values we learnt from those tales, and the consequence? I felt like I was being left hanging in the mid air not knowing what to believe anymore.
Is this a bad thing? Apparently a lot of people thought it was. Since the film’s release in December 2014, a lot of audience have been complaining about how the story had pointlessly messed around with their favourite fairy tales characters. Of course, it’s a movie, and with a trailer like that, people expect adventures, magic fight, romance, or whatever that excites them. But “Into the Woods” is not something as advertised. It’s a literature, an art, a story with strong messages which, wait for it, was originally meant for adults! For example the prince’s infidelity, the exposure of Mr. Wolf’s genital, the moment when Red Riding Hood sang “excited and scared” when Mr. Wolf “drew her close”, these are all the underlying messages in the story that challenge the innocence of fairy tales that parents had told their children.
When the characters all went into the woods for things they desire, did their decisions or actions represent justice? Was right really right, and wrong really wrong? Stephen Sondheim wrote in his lyrics:
One another’s terrible mistakes.
Witches can be right, Giants can be good.
You decide what’s right you decide what’s good
Which created a whole new perspective on what we thought was a matter of course.
Having looked into more details of the story, I couldn’t help to think that “Into the Woods” is one of the smartest, most profound stories ever. But Disney’s adaptation to the musical is another thing to talk about here. “Into the Woods” musical fans will find the movie interesting and enjoyable, because the actors are all pretty awesome. But if you haven’t seen the musical nor have you heard about the story, this movie will end up a little confusing. When you compare the performance on Broadway and this film, you will see that Disney has transformed it into something less silly. This is, in my opinion, what makes the movie so much less interesting and ‘unbearable’, according to a number of audience. It’s understandable that Disney couldn’t go to the extend of making too much fun out of their most important company assets. Well you might say “then don’t freaking do it!” which I did a few times in my mind, but if you think carefully, it wouldn’t be as convincing if it wasn’t Disney who did it. In my opinion, this is the best thing Disney have done over its long history of being a storyteller to children around the world. Since ‘Tangled'(2010), Disney have been slowly changing the stories they tell, addressing the increasing criticisms of the traditional tales. The latest hit ‘Frozen’ is another revolutionary work with a very unconventional ending. You can tell that Disney are being smart by placing the humor on themselves, and what story could have been more ironic to conventional fairy tales than “Into the Woods”? To me, it is a very awesome thing for Disney to do. This film was made for us, the people who grew up with their stories, who believed in the Disney’s spirit, and the perfect world of fairy tales.
“You’re so nice. You’re not good, you’re not bad, you’re just nice. I’m not good, I’m not nice, I’m just right!” – The Witch
The witch who we always thought was evil and the people who we always sympathized, who to tell they’re right or wrong? Our world is way more complicated than that.
“Careful the things you say, children will listen. Careful the things you do, children will see, and learn.”
When the cast slowly chanting the tune of the finale number, it occurred to me right at the moment that this is Disney trying to make things right for us, for the people who have been with them since the beginning and who are parents of their children now.
Good move, Disney.