16 January 2015
I grew up with musicals, but I didn't grow up with Into the Woods. I came upon it later, a few years into my study on fairytales, which may have been a better time to get into it anyway. The musical is right up my alley, deconstructing the modern connotations we have with fairytales, their characters, and their happily-ever-afters. I love fairytales, I love reading them and I enjoy them at face value, but I also love tearing them apart, thinking about what they mean both to me and to the audience in general, what the author(s) meant and what these stories reveal about the cultures and the tellers of these tales. Fairytale deconstructions have become more and more popular: re-tellings from the points of view of villainesses, feminist authors re-telling old stories showcasing the edits made by male authors in the last few centuries, even Disney making sequels to their fairytale movies in order to either continue the story, expand on it, or flesh out antagonists.
I was excited when I first heard about Once Upon a Time, I was so excited. I expected a whole universe filled with fairytale deconstructions, I was excited for the opportunities to really explore characters the way you get time to in TV shows, and I expected nuanced stories weaving these fairytale characters together sympathetically and fascinatingly. You can tell me if it's changed, but when I bailed after season 2, all we'd gotten was a re-drawn caricature of each character as they appeared in their original Disney forms, a lecture on the unshakable importance of natural motherhood over adopted families, and everyone's stories funneling into The Rumpelstiltskin Man-Pain Hour.
This is why I was absolutely terrified of Disney's Into the Woods. Disney had proven with Once Upon a Time that they didn't care for alternate incarnations of fairytale characters, and the characters of Into the Woods are not at all Disney's versions of those characters. I was so worried Disney would try to shoe-horn their own characters in where they didn't belong, which was looking very, very possible (for some reason I can't find it now, but one of those official Disney blogs put out a post attempting to compare the Disney versions to their Into the Woods counterparts, despite Disney's Cinderella being based on Perrault's Cendrillon and Into the Woods using the Grimms' Aschenputtel, among other such gems as attempting to compare a baker in the background from Beauty and the Beast to the Baker from Into the Woods). My fervent prayer for this movie was, "Please don't suck, please don't suck, please don't suck."
And you know? It didn't suck. It turns out Disney can still surprise me pleasantly.
(Spoilers from here on!)