2014-12-24

Into the Woods – Not a Nice Place to Visit

by Yo Snyder

The first half of Into the Woods plays out as an enjoyable
and funny, Princess Bride-esque type of fairy tale mashup. However, before
“happily ever after” has a chance to settle in, the second half of the movie
kicks in, which works to undo all of the fairy tale standards and tropes set up
by the first half. It’s here where the true nature of the woods is revealed,
and it’s not a pleasant place. Turns out the woods is a place of moral
relativism and completely lacking in absolute truth. It’s a place where silly
things like good and evil, true and noble, and “happily ever after” are
childish and simplistic notions which pose a danger of corrupting young and
impressionable minds. It’s a twisted and a dark path, into the woods, one
that’s also filled with a surprisingly lecherous subtext, all of which makes
this latest Disney fairy tale one that’s perhaps best avoided by families
looking for a holiday outing.

Not that this is a poorly made film. In fact, there’s quite
a bit about that I actually enjoyed. Meryl Strep is a blast to watch as the
witch at the center of all that takes place. Chris Pine, however, absolutely
steals the show in every scene he’s in. He’s so over the top that that actor
who plays Captain Kirk is actually more of the William Shatner Captain Kirk in
this movie than in the two previous Star Treks, which makes for a delightfully
funny spectacle every time he’s on screen. These are the two standouts in a
cast that is absolutely solid from top to bottom. Toss in some enjoyable music
(it is a musical after all), solid production design, and clever writing and
you have the makings of a really fun movie. However, all is not what it seems
in the woods, and what might seems like another playful send-up of the
Disney-fied fairy tale formula actually treads into much darker and more
dangerous territory.

Even in the sunny, cheery, more standard fairy tale-like
beginning, one can tell that not everything is quite right in the woods. There
was some very subtle subtext to the Wolf’s encounter with Red Riding Hood that
made me feel rather uncomfortable with the fact that I had brought my twelve year
old daughter to the screening. While I’m certain she didn’t pick up on it, I
did and it made me squirm ever so slightly. From what I’ve read and heard, the
popular musical the film is based isn’t quite so subtle with those elements,
which actually had some complaining that Disney would ruin the story by
removing them, especially since they were so integral to the story this
particular musical was trying to tell. I also mentioned to my daughter that she
should take note of what color horse Prince Charming was riding (it was black),
as that would be important later on. It was, but my daughter was no less
shocked and upset by the revelation.

Still, it’s the second half of the movie where it really
sets out to trample the ideals of classic fairy tales. As our characters get
“educated” in the woods, they learn that it’s up to them to determine what is
good, that no one can know what is True, and that everyone has their own, valid
opinion and it’s important to not only acknowledge but be accepting of every viewpoint.
You may think that I’m reading between the lines with this, but some of that is
direct quotes from the movie. As much as the muted sexual subtext made me
slightly uncomfortable, these kinds of bold statements outright alarmed me. In
fact, this was probably the preachiest movie I’ve seen in quite some time, and
it was bludgeoning the audience with a morally relativistic, anti-absolute,
always be tolerant of everything and everyone worldview.

Of course the fascinating thing was even as the film preached
tolerance and moral relativism, characters still felt “wronged” (how is that
possible if right and wrong don’t really exist), and they still slayed giants
despite the fact they just stated that maybe they were just as justified in
their rampant destruction as the kingdom was in trying to defend themselves.
The film demonstrates that moral relativism and a lack of absolutes is an
untenable way for the world to function even as it trumpets that’s how the
world should function; even the world of fairy tales. Jesus once stated that
“broad is the road that leads to destruction…”, so I find it interesting that
even as Into the Wood preaches a very broad worldview, the film ends in the
midst of devastation and destruction. The kingdom is destroyed, marriages are
destroyed, lives are destroyed, even the woods are destroyed. So what exactly
was so “wrong” about having the “narrow” view that good and evil, right and
wrong, True and false aren’t relative?

I find it interesting that this Christmas season families
have a choice between two very different musical movie outings. There’s this
film, Into the Wood, which pretty much lays waste to all the “old fashioned”
ideals of classic Disney fairy tales, and there’s Annie, which is brimming full
of optimism and the belief that virtue is its own reward is good is worth doing
simply because it’s right and that the bad guys get what’s coming to them and
the good guys always win…you know, all that “old fashioned”, feel good stuff.
The final song of Into the Wood warns that one should be cautious in the tales
that are told to children, because they will believe it (implying it’s a cruel
deception to tell tales of good and evil and happily ever after). Well, I
couldn’t agree more, so heed my warning dear families, do not go Into the
Woods. It’s a dark and twisty path with a subtext that seems determined to
undermine all that the Bible has ever taught.

Score: 4 of 7 – In
truth, I could rate this movie higher, because it is a well-made movie, and quite enjoyable in parts. But the dark
places it goes both in the subtly implied sexual subtext and the more blatant
morally relative and anti-absolute outlook makes it a hard film to recommend to
families with young kids. It can spark some good discussion, as it did with me
and my daughter, but it’s not what I would call an uplifting family outing for
the Holidays.