We all know the story of the classic Disney fairy tale. There’s the “Once upon a time,” and a princess, and singing birds, and happiness, and then a twist *gasp*, and something’s wrong, and then the Prince comes, and then kissing, and then voila! You have your “happily ever after.” It’s what we’ve come to know and love in Disney movies. Except in recent years, Disney and others have been exploring a different side of fairy tales. Ones where their endings aren’t the “happily ever after” that we used to expect.
What I find interesting about this is that many of the original fairy tales weren’t necessarily so happy. They all didn’t end with a wedding and love and perfect families and happiness. For instance with The Little Mermaid, her legs caused pain like daggers were stabbing into her feet with every step. And when she and her prince finally wed, she regretted it and was given the option to kill him and become a mermaid again or stay a human. So, she threw herself into the ocean and dissolved into sea foam. Not your normal happily ever after, huh? Or Sleeping Beauty…she woke up from her sleep with children because some guy had come and raped her in her sleep. Multiple times. And she had given birth in her sleep. Multiple times. And not to mention this is with a married guy. Blegh.
So it’s intriguing to me that what originally were pretty gruesome and not necessarily happy stories turned into what we know as fairy tales. And now, they’re kind of re-working themselves. Not to the point that we’re going to see a Disney movie where Sleeping Beauty is raped, but the themes are changing. We see females kicking butt a lot more now. We see the importance of family over hunky princes. We see a lot of things that are different from the old classics.
But one movie/musical that I’m going to talk about now kind of reworks everything we’d expect in a fairy tale. Into the Woods. I’ve only seen the movie and not the original musical, so that’s what I’m basing my writing here on. But this movie is so strange. When I first saw it, I left the theater so utterly conflicted. I didn’t know how to process my thoughts and emotions. What in the world did I just watch? It was absolutely nothing like I expected.
I’ve watched it a few times since, though, and I’ve realized something. I’m supposed to feel conflicted. I’m supposed to leave not exactly loving it but not disliking it either. I’m supposed to have had my expectations demolished. That was the point of the movie. They take a bunch of original fairy tales. They bring it to the happy ending that we would expect. You know, Rapunzel is with her prince and Cinderella with her’s. The Baker and his wife have their baby. The witch is beautiful again. Jack got his cow back. Happy happy happy. And you think that’s the end.
Buuuuut, then the giants come and everything is twisted. The premise is that the woods are causing this. Weird things happen in the woods, right? Like the Baker’s wife and Cinderella’s prince hook up (I wanted to punch someone at this part). Red Riding Hood lost her family. The prince is actually a total toolbag. The Baker’s wife literally falls off a cliff and dies. And the giants are murdered.
After my roommate saw it, she came home and declared her dislike for it because it was just too long. “It should have ended when they got married and it was just not good after that.” I think this is a feeling a lot of people had and it’s because of this abrupt twist of our expectations.
But strangely, all of these characters all found their own different kind of happiness. The ending wasn’t tragic but hopeful. Hopeful for the future. Hopeful for the Baker’s little son whom he started telling their story to with the famous, or perhaps infamous, words “Once upon a time…”
Because of what we consider today to be a “fairy tale,” a story of happiness and love and friendship and joy and you know what I’m saying by now, it’s hard for us to accept these stories without the usual happily ever after. It’s easy for us to just set it aside as something we didn’t like, but it’s important to think why we didn’t like it. Was it not good? Was it just not the type of thing we’re into? Or did it just break a very well-established mold and at the same time did it break us out of our own very well-established comfort zone?
These are just some things to think about. I love thinking about things like this even though the classic “happily ever over” stories are some of my favorites. So, what do you think about this? What stories have you read that weren’t what you expected them to be? Let me know!
Afterthought: Can I just say, I was laughing so hard at the “Agony” scene with the princes? It’s pretty hilarious, you can’t lie. I love Chris Pine and although his character is a jerk, I loved this part.