April 3, 2015

A Fairytale Follow-Up: Into the Woods and Back Again, By Nora Stasio


Well, it took me awhile, but I finally went out and saw the film I’ve already written about multiple times – Disney’s adaptation of Sondheim’s dark fairy tale musical, "Into the Woods."
And I have to say, I thought it was wonderful! A little long, a tad slow at times, but wonderfully done! I highly recommend it.

You've probably already heard what everyone's been saying. Meryl Streep is fabulous in this - acting AND singing. You'll see why she was nominated for a "Best Actress" Oscar. And that’s exciting! How often do fairy tale films get noticed at the Oscars? Sure, there's the occasional  "Best Costumes," "Best Makeup," "Best Set Design" (or in Disney's case, "Best Original Song"), but how often do the actors get recognized?

Why does a fairy tale Oscar nod feel so rare? This is my best guess: The Academy seems to look to "mature," adult-oriented, serious-in-tone dramas to find their best actors and actresses of the year. Fairy tale films tend to be more-family oriented, light-hearted, whimsical, even saccharine. And they are, much of the time, aimed directly at children, not highbrow film critics.

Whatever the reason, we ought to salute Meryl. She may in fact be the first person in history to be nominated for "Best Actor/Actress" for playing a fairy tale character. The article below has a lot more info on that fact:

In my first article on Into the Woods, I was worried that Disney would Disney-fy the fairy tales and not play them as darkly as the original theatrical stage production did. I'm quite pleased to say that I needn't have worried at all! Below, I'll address some areas that I had been concerned about, and discuss how the film handled them.

So ... let me start with Little Red and the Wolf. I discussed my concerns about their relationship here.  Upon seeing the film, I found the scene of their meeting to be very awkward. I think Sondheim's lyrics may have been edited a tad, I can’t say for sure, but they still had a sexual subtext, in my opinion. So it was somewhat uncomfortable seeing Johnny Depp sing these words to such a young girl - she is 13. But other than that, I didn’t feel that the sexuality of the whole situation was emphasized or played out in a very noticeable way. In the next scene, where the Wolf eats her (which is implied and not shown), there's nothing titillating or erotic about it. I just thought the scene was scary - even though I knew it was coming!

The original Broadway production of "Into the Woods" was aimed at an adult audience, but this is definitely a PG film. There's nothing too extreme, but nothing has been dumbed-down for children either. In fact, I thought it felt very much like an adult-oriented film.

There are a few moments of gore (implied gore, nothing is actually shown) that do correspond exactly to the original tales they are representing. Conversely, there are some characters who die in the Broadway version but end up surviving in the film. Of course, there are still a few deaths, as there are in the stage version. And they aren’t sugar-coated either.

There's more to say, but I didn't want to reveal too much. If you've already seen the film, or you're just dying to know, I have listed a few points containing spoilers below. So this is a SPOILER ALERT!

I had mentioned how the Baker's wife and Cinderella's Prince are supposed to "have an affair" in the play, but in the film, they don't really do more than kiss each other a whole lot. Rapunzel does not bear any children. There is not even a hint that she became pregnant - but this is what I expected from Disney, especially with a PG rating. Also, she dies in the stage version, but that's not shown or even implied here. We actually don't even get to see what becomes of her after she flees the Witch's grasp on her Prince's horse. She's not a part of the film's big finale. I guess we are meant to assume that hers was a "Happily Ever After." As for the implied gore - eyes are, in fact, gouged out - Rapunzel's Prince's, and the Stepsisters', to be exact. The Sisters also get their heels and toes cut off, as per the original tale. And the Baker (not a woodcutter) slices open the wolf's stomach to free Little Red and her Grandmother. But like I said, not more than a drop of blood or two is actually shown on screen.

All in all, it was a rare treat to see the fairy tales portrayed this way on the big screen, a nice change from your typical sugary-sweet Disney fairy tale (though I do enjoy those). I have to commend Disney on how it all turned out. Now all there's left to do is to go see Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella!
Have you seen Into the Woods, and what did you think? Did you gush over Miss Streep, or were you unimpressed? Also, what did you think of Depp’s wolf costume? Let us know with a comment!

Bio: Nora writes, "I have been a lover of creative writing and fairy tales for basically my entire life! I graduated Cum Laude from Rutgers where I completed a minor in English, with a focus in Creative Writing and Shakespeare (I majored in Psychology)."

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1 comment

  1. I liked this movie better than I expected to. The stage versions I have seen have been more on the cartoon-y side, and I appreciated the darker, more realistic feel of this one (still very fairy tale, though). I thought it was well cast, and I enjoyed having Jack and Little Red played by actual young people rather than adults. It added depth.