Wednesday, August 24, 2016

When Hollywood Gets It Wrong, part 2: Into the Woods

- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay
Here’s venting session #1, in which I complain that Hollywood really watered down the moral message of Harry Potter. Now get ready for venting session #2, in which I make the same complaint about Into the Woods. Then stay tuned next time for how Hollywood ruined the message of If I Stay in approximately ten seconds.

Warning: Spoilers for Into the Woods are contained herein. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Let’s start out with something I should have suspected but hadn’t really thought about: Plenty of people have already complained about the Disney film adaptation of Into the Woods. In fact, plenty of people have already complained about the very thing I’m complaining about. They did it so much that one of the actresses and even the director commented on it, both saying they didn’t think it was a big deal. The director makes the most compelling argument for cutting it because of pacing, but I just think he’s still wrong.* So we’re gonna make this short today (that might also have something to do with me being on deadline for a gazillion things and being way behind).

So what am I complaining about? The cutting of the song “No More.” Okay, so a quick recap if you’re not familiar with the story. Into the Woods mashes up a whole bunch of fairy tales, including Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel. The pertinent character here, though, is the Baker, whose wife has committed adultery then gotten smooshed by a giant, leaving the Baker with a baby to raise (a baby that he and his wife had gone on a huge quest to be able to conceive, by the way). In this song, he is grieving and just wants to run away from his responsibilities. He has a history with this response—his father abandoned him and his mother when things got hard. So when his father appears and, musically, points out all the difficulties with running away, the Baker goes back to his baby and decides to stay.

To me, his father’s words are an important message:

Running away, let’s do it.
Free from the ties that bind.
No more despair, or burdens to bear,
Out there in the yonder.

Running away, go to it.
Where did you have in mind?
Have to take care, unless there’s a “where,”
You’ll only be wandering blind.
Just more questions, different kind.
Where are we to go?
Where are we ever to go?

Running away, we’ll do it.
Why sit around, resigned?
Trouble is, son, the farther you run,
The more you feel undefined.
For what you have left undone, and more,
What you’ve left behind.

Without this song, the Baker pretty much just goes back to his responsibilities without much deep consideration of why it matters. Without this song, we miss the message: Sure, life is hard sometimes, but running away just makes it harder.

You want to know the truth? This message is part of what grounded me in life when I was struggling (in an admittedly very mild case) with postpartum depression. There were times when I thought it would be so much easier to just be gone, but I was blessed to have that inner voice of the Spirit tell me that running away wouldn’t solve anything. I’m so grateful for that.

A reviewer for the Washington Post also complained about this omission, though in my opinion
her review had two faults: 1. She states that the change ruined the movie. I don’t go that far. I think it made the movie less powerful than the stage production, but I don’t think it entirely ruined the thing (which, on the whole, I truly enjoyed). 2. In my opinion, she missed the greater meaning behind the story. She is hung up on a bleak, nihilistic sort of interpretation about how life sucks, but to me, the truth that got weakened in the film version of the story is one of moral courage in the face of despair. It isn’t that life sucks and you just have to get over it. It’s that when we do the hard thing, when we make the decision to stay instead of running, we have power.* At least that’s what I think.

* A personal note: Yes, I know there are times you have to leave. I quit grad school, after all, because it was (as I melodramatically put it) crushing my soul. Abusive situations, truly dangerous places, and such—yes, feel free to run.

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