For those who grew up on Disney’s traditional fairy tales, “Into the Woods” will prove a fresh take on some familiar material.
With its combination of master narrative and musical monologues, we venture into the forest with faces new and old. In a world where everyone has a wish, the Baker (played by James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) simply wish to have a child. However, they soon find out that the not-so-typical witch next door, the beautiful and musically gifted Meryl Streep, has cursed the Baker’s bloodline to be barren.
So, the Baker and his wife must find the witch some common fairytale items, such as the cape, the cow, the hair and the slipper, in order to change their fate. Along the way, they encounter Jack, Cinderella, Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel, hoping to have their own wishes granted.
Soon we find each of their stories entangled Rapunzel, the sister snatched by the witch from the Baker’s family, Red and Jack bickering as children do and even the Baker’s Wife and Cinderella sharing a heart-to-heart. With so many twists and turns the plot proves to never bore.
For those who haven’t seen the movie, the following may contain spoilers.
As each story unfolds into its very own happy ending (even for the evil witch), we see the true magic of Disney shine through. With many characters finding their wishes not all they expected, Cinderella ponders her marriage and the Baker his parental instincts, we get a taste of after the happy ending.
The biggest surprise comes when Cinderella and her charming, however not faithful, prince split on the best of terms for Cinderella to experience the life she truly wants, which she expresses as somewhere between the richest and the poorest options.
This idea of a happy ending outside of marriage is not a new theme to Disney (see “Brave” or “Frozen”) yet this is noticeably one of the first times we see a couple accept their true natures and admit love at first sight may not be the best gauge for compatibility.
With a simple musical tune, Disney has also managed to challenge the binaries of good and evil found in your everyday fairytale. Streep’s witch casts major doubt not only on her own “evilness” but also the “goodness” of her fellow characters. With each major character sporting their own morality flaw (the thieving Jack or the lying Cinderella) the witch claims her own blame merely comes from everyone else’s inability to take responsibility.
While this theme of “Good versus Evil” can be a helpful tool in teaching children right from wrong, this challenging helps to shed light on the depth of one’s character as opposed to the way others may traditionally see them.
“Into the Woods” works to break through many of the past requirements for the telling of a tale by injecting real life issues into its pretend world. Prepare to have all of your notions of a ‘true’ Disney tale rocked as you head into the theater.
And remember, be careful what you wish for.