When was Into the Woods written? I don’t care. It still takes us back to the Disney of fifteen years ago, when the Great White Hetero World had Great White Hetero Principles, and no one outside of that world mattered. Yes, I am aware that Disney didn’t write this. But they’re still responsible for it.
Let’s start with the positive. Colleen Atwood is a superb costume designer. Meryl Streep is my new diva icon, not only because she could sing, but because she looks stunning in royal blue whimsy. I only hope Anna Kendrick grows up to do the same. The singing from all of the actors was sublimely excellent—leaps and bounds better than, oh, say…the most recent incarnation of Les Miserables. And Johnny Depp was a pleasant surpise too; it seems he performs best when he’s in makeup for a role.
Best Moment Award: homoerotic duet of the two princes. This was also the funniest scene of the entire shebang. Drooling fangirls and boner-popping drag queens everywhere!
Feminist win: Cinderella chooses her own path. Also when Lead Average White Guy Mr. Baker finally realizes that it takes two to tango, or at least make a baby. (This can also be considered “Best Derp Moment.”)
And now for the shitstorm.
This was like having Obama [or insert progressive person here] for the last eight years, and then you wake up and suddenly it’s 2001 again. What the what??
We start off with a song saying that there’s a “childless baker” with a shot of a couple tooling around a kitchen. The next words are, “and his wife.” Anyone else see the weird sexism here? My natural thought was that someone who is “childless” would be a woman. So confusing. Then again, we might’ve gotten feminist outcries of “calling a woman ‘childless’ is just another qualifier we have to get rid of, so props to Disney for pinning it on a man this time.” Normally, I would agree with that sentiment, but as it turns out this is just the icing on the Another White Dude storyline.
As the story progresses, the baker and his wife are sent on a quest by a witch to retreive four items so that the witch can give them a child. At first Mr. Baker tries to get the necessary cow, but it’s not until his wife shows up that he gets it by telling Jack that his beans are magic. Mrs. Baker was the one to suggest that he do so, which in their minds was a lie. Mr. Baker then tries to steal the red cape, but only gains it when he saves the little girl and her granny from the Wolf. Mrs. Baker, on the other hand, gets no such redemption and tries to get the golden hair via pretending to be Rapunzel’s prince. The only item she doesn’t receive via deceipt is Cinderella’s golden slipper.
Later on, Mrs. Baker is tempted by Cinderella’s prince. Kissing him makes her question her fidelity, and once she comes to a moment of clarity and self-acceptance, she dies. Jack’s mom dies too, after having questionable maternal practices. Why? Because Disney can’t stop killing mothers. Eve complex, anyone? Nevermind the snake imagery when Rapunzel is banished.
So aside from the ubiquitous heteronormativity, and the fact that the only people of color are the token background non-speakers, we have the Bakers getting a son. Now, I’m not a man-hater. But in the context of Disney and this film, OF COURSE they have a son. Because in the Disney realm, sons can be princes and heroes, while daughters are cursed or witches! And we’re the society that looks down on traditional China for seeing sons as “big happiness” while daughters are “little happiness”?
Also, Rapunzel’s prince OF COURSE gets his sight back. We can’t have an impaired Prince, now, can we. Especially when it’s sight, because seeing a pretty girl = love, right? We can’t have ladies who have men who love them for who they are—that would be chaos!
On to a couple of technicalities. Why did an actual ear of corn work for the spell when the witch specifically asked for “hair as gold as corn”? Also, why was a single small stone sufficient to knock out a giant? I think someone is trying to tell us to read our bibles, because that was the story of David & Goliath.
Speaking of the giant, there’s some befuddling mixed messaging in the film. Right before Jack loads up his slingshot, the four main characters have a whole song dedicated to how people treat each other, and one of the kids poses, “Aren’t giants people too?” And Cinderella sings that even though the giantess was going around harming villages, maybe we should see her side of the story, as someone who was hurt too. But then they go ahead with the plan and knock her out anyway! What the hell? After a song like that, usually diplomacy is at least attempted. Apparently now we’re supposed to believe that lashing out is better than diplomacy, circa 2002.
So here’s basically what Disney did, in the chronological eyes of the masses. Princess & the Frog, in which the princess is a woman of African descent. Brave, in which a girl takes the lead and the theme is about her relationship with her mother. Frozen, about two sisters who don’t need men as the primary influence of true love. Maleficent: see Frozen, only matriarchal. And Big Hero 6, which involves a largely Asian community, thereby saying that not all boy heroes have to be of European descent. And what does Into the Woods give us? Whitewashed, heteronormative, biblically derivative, mixed-messaged pile of pandering horsedung. We’ve taken five steps forward only to go ten steps back. The only positive thing I can say here is that the sexes are pretty equally represented; there’s a villainous woman, and a morally ambiguous man. A girl child and a boy child. Two princes, two princesses. The Baker and his wife. Oh, except for the son they have. That tips the scales a tad, but at least he doesn’t speak or have character issues.
I didn’t expect Perfect P.C. Movie Extravaganza. I didn’t go in looking for gay characters, people of color, or even equal gender representation. I knew it was Disney, and that comes with a certain set of ground rules. What I didn’t expect, however, was the sheer lack of consistency, thematic or otherwise. Stop messing with my brain! If this is merely a film interpretation of the musical, then the musical is shitty too. And folks, if *I* could pick up on all of these idiocies with a couple of drinks in my system, imagine what Sober Intelligencia could do. I cannot believe this film was in the running for a Golden Globe as Best Musical.
If a dragon were involved, at least I’d be distracted enough not to notice. Where’s Smaug when you need him?