Picoreview: Into the Woods

Picoreview: Into the Woods: Not bad. Not *nearly* as bad as it could have been, which sounds damning with faint praise and isn’t intended to. It may even verge on satisfying, although it’s not entirely satisfying, because I’m too familiar with the stage play.

Many of the performances are very, very good. Most, even. Chris Pine is terrific as Cinderella’s Prince, Shatnering it up way more than he does in Star Trek, and, as everybody has said, the Princes’ Agony is very funny indeed. Meryl Streep is–well, she’s Meryl Streep. She largely manages to make the role of the Witch her own, which, when you’re following Bernadette Peters, is a pretty strong showing all by itself. Etc, etc; almost everybody is very good.

The movie didn’t fix any of the major problems I have with the stage show (and as much as I love it, I have *issues* with the stage show, which I think is hugely misogynistic), but I didn’t expect it to. It did introduce other problems through the changes it made, resulting in–well, chaos, basically. Ted’s not familiar with the stage show and thought the movie was okay but far too chaotic. He was agog when I said there were two plot threads that had been cut entirely. He couldn’t imagine how they’d be stuffed in, although as it happens they both anchor the Rapunzel thread, which he had found to be utterly unmoored.

It also turned out Ted wasn’t familiar with the old-school Cinderella stories, and was straight-up horrified at the step-sisters’ prince-getting antics and fate. That was actually kind of fun, because he threw me a few appalled looks during those scenes and afterward was like “OH MY GOD” and I was like “oh no that’s the original story” and he was all “augh!” I was such a fan of the older, darker fairy tales when I was a kid I never imagine people don’t generally know them, and he *does* know some of the others, but Cinderella’s was new on him. O.O :)

…everything about this commentary is going to be spoilery because it’s comparing the stage play to the film and even if I’m not *comparing* I’m talking about the changes made to the script, so…spoilers ahoy, but I’m not cutting it because it’s a 30 year old play. :)

I maintain that the Wolf should have been played, as he is in the stage play, by Prince Charming (Chris Pine, in the film). Although, because of other changes they made to the script, having him play the Wolf is not putting the ring on it that it is in the stage play. The Wolf is a sexual predator, as is Prince Charming, but by casting the Wolf as someone else and removing the Sleeping Beauty/Snow White subplot (which also deprives us of the Agony reprise, which is, IMHO, even funnier than the original), you end up with “Prince Charming is kind of a jerk” instead of “Prince Charming is a sexual predator” or at the very least “Prince Charming is a *total* player.” It’s not nearly as strong a position as the stage play takes, and I think it should be.

That said, Johnny Depp was almost fine in the role of the Wolf, as he only fell into Depp Mannerisms twice in the five minutes he was on the screen and could almost sing the whole of his song.

The same, unfortunately, can’t be said of the boy who played Jack. Giants in the Sky is one of my favourite songs ever, and the poor kid–I don’t know if his voice was changing, or if he just simply didn’t have the capability to sing the song, but he was flat all over the place and he didn’t even *try* for the final high note. They cut his other song, which is very funny, entirely.

In fact, I felt they’d cut a *lot* of the humor from the show. Jack’s song, the Agony reprise (people have been saying they can’t see how they could top Agony with a reprise, but lyrically it’s very funny and I don’t think it needs to be topped in melodramatic performance), a bunch of stuff with Jack’s mother, some of the Witch’s best lines…really, aside from Agony, I thought all the humor got dropped. A friend thought all of Little Red Riding Hood’s funny bits fell flat, although I thought she was perfect. Possibly, though, her straight-man deadpan delivery wasn’t as funny because most of the normal-funny got dropped.

Despite all of that, though, it wasn’t a bad adaptation. It’s not as Disneyfied as I thought it might be (I had gone in with the impression that the Baker’s Wife’s final song and the subsequent plot points had been eliminated), and overall I enjoyed it. I’ll probably own it, and all that, so, y’know. They did their job. :)

Okay. Lemme talk about the misogyny of the show in general. There are *much more specific* spoilers past this point, again for both the film and stage show, so I will put this behind a cut, but if you’re familiar with either version or don’t care about spoilers, read on. This isn’t like Birdman where I think it should Be Revealed To You as part of the Experience Of The Show. :)

I have always hated, ever since the first time I saw the show 25 or so years ago, that the Baker’s Wife dies. She has a brief affair with Cinderella’s prince, has a magnificent song of epiphany about–essentially–how life isn’t fair and every moment should be embraced…and then she’s stepped on by the Giantess.

I hate that. I *hate* it: I hate that this brave, kind, devious, clever woman is punished for gaining understanding. I know it’s ironic, but it’s always really, really bothered me. It’s always seemed so blatantly Eve-like, just so hugely misogynistic.

Having now rewatched it, it’s much worse than that.

Everybody who dies in the show is a woman.

Jack’s mother dies trying to protect her son.
The Baker’s Wife dies for having had an affair with the Prince.
Rapunzel, I am reminded, _also_ dies in the stage show, for growing up and becoming sexually aware and active. (She didn’t die in the film, which took the teeth out of one of the Witch’s final songs.)

Moreover, in the film, it seems pretty unambiguous that the Witch herself dies, as much for trying to restore her lost power as trying to feed Jack to the Giantess. (In the stage play I think it’s far clearer that, magic restored, the Witch leaves humanity to deal with giants and the woods on their own.)

So they all die for reasons that the male characters are lauded or rewarded for: the Baker is admired for returning to protect his son and friends, the Princes have seduced their way through the show without consequence (because while they lose Cinderella and Rapunzel, they get Snow White and Sleeping Beauty with no particular emotional consternation on their parts), and the hapless Baker is elevated to a position of relative power–head of a suddenly-much-larger-family, if nothing else.

As a friend said, fairy tales aren’t exactly feminist-friendly, but Into the Woods was written in the 80s and was intended to turn fairy tales on their ear. It didn’t, and I didn’t expect the film to fix those problems, but they’re still problems and I wish they weren’t.

Okay, the Giant dies and he’s male, but he’s never seen, either. And the Wolf dies, but 1. not human and 2. not correctly cast.